When Yelena Hanga was a young girl, she heard about life in the United States from her American grandmother. She heard about the civil rights demonstrations her grandmother took part in in New York in the 1920s. She heard about how her grandmother, from a well-to-do white family, married Oliver John Golden, the grandson of slaves from Mississippi, and how they emigrated to the Soviet Union to help the cotton farmers in Uzbekistan.
Now Miss Hanga, a reporter for the Soviet weekly Moscow News, is seeing America for herself.
She arrived here Sunday, along with Nikolai Garkusha of the Novosti Press Agency, to begin a 2 month stint as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Garkusha will work at the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., after two weeks at the Monitor and other Boston-area newspapers. They are the first Soviet participants in the first US-Soviet journalists' exchange, which sent this writer and Eagle reporter Alan Cooperman to Moscow News for three months this summer.
On her first day on the job, Hanga wasted no time in getting down to business.
``I'd like to go to Washington for the summit,'' she told Monitor editors. She may very well go.
At home, Hanga's enthusiasm for her work has earned her a reputation as a hard charger who makes some of Moscow's seemingly unshakable institutions tremble. When she got a letter from an American millionaire complaining about the service in a restaurant that caters to foreigners, she went there to see for herself. The service was terrible, and the readers of Moscow News, one of the Soviet Union's more progressive newspapers, heard all about it.
``Some people got in big trouble because of my article,'' she says with a grin. ``Now when I go in there, they say, `Be sure to treat her well!'''
Hanga and Garkusha agree that being a journalist has become especially exciting since the advent of glasnost, the Soviet government's policy of allowing more openness and diversity in press coverage. And certainly their opportunity to work and live with American reporters is another sign of the changing times.
Garkusha's career has been longer and more varied than Hanga's. He began as a factory worker in the Crimea, got a degree in journalism from Moscow State University (as did Hanga), covered economics for Crimean Pravda, edited the Crimean youth newspaper, and served as a local party functionary. Two years ago he moved to Novosti in Moscow, where he works as an administrator and foreign affairs writer. He and his wife, a music teacher, have twin 14-year-old sons.
At one time Garkusha wrote poetry in his spare time. ``Now I have one hobby,'' he says. ``Work.''
These days Hanga's favorite pastime is dancing to rock music. As a teen-ager, she set her sights on becoming a tennis champion, reaching No. 2 in the national junior rankings. Maybe it was Anna Dmitrieva, her trainer turned sports commentator, who showed her the attractions of journalism, Hanga says.
So far, Garkusha has kept busy in Boston watching newspapers in action. ``Everybody has a job to do, and they do it,'' he remarked after a day at the Boston Globe. ``No standing around in the halls smoking.''
Out in rural western Massachusetts, he looks forward to getting a view of simple American life - ``apple pies, mothers raising children'' - much the way Soviet journalists Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov described the US in their popular 1930s book ``One-story America.'' So far, Garkusha has been struck by the vast wealth and development of America, where decades without war ``confirm the creative force of peace.''
During her time in America, Hanga hopes to cover citizens' diplomacy and youth. She also hopes to get a picture of American race issues that goes beyond the image in the Soviet news media of homeless blacks forgotten on city streets. She wants to know more about jazz and the blues, and about black churches.
``I'd like to interview people at the bottom,'' she says, ``and then go interview [Boston] Mayor [Raymond] Flynn.''
In the Soviet Union, where indigenous blacks are rare, Hanga says she has never experienced prejudice. And like the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Hanga is clearly proud of her black roots, both American and African. Her father was a Tanzanian government minister, killed in the 1960s during a coup.
In Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan, plans are under way for a monument to her grandfather, who led a contingent of other black American communists to the country in the 1930s. The movement is chronicled in a book by Hanga's mother, Lily Golden, called ``Africans in Russia.''
But in the end, Hanga says: ``I feel as Russian as the others.''