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Russia: Human Rights Activist To Undergo Heart Surgery In U.S.

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 5 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A prominent Russian human rights activist -- Sergei Kovalyov -- is scheduled to arrive in the United States on Sunday to undergo medical observation and surgery to correct a heart condition.

Kovalyov, 66, suffered a heart attack two months ago and has since been recovering in a sanitarium near Moscow. He was released on Tuesday and is preparing to make the journey to the United States. His son lives in New York,

John Finerty, a staff adviser at the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, told an RFE/RL Washington correspondent that Kovalyov's forthcoming medical visit to the United States came about as a result of the combined efforts of several members of the U.S. Congress.

Among them were commission co-chairmen Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) and Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-New York). Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) also added their voices to the effort. They met Kovalyov when he testified at congressional hearings on human rights issues.

Finerty relates the following sequence of events that led Kovalyov to a date with an American heart surgeon. One day after hearing about Kovalyov's heart attack, the congressmen asked a staff member at the Department of Defense to inquire if they might be able to help in any way.

The State and Defense Departments combined forces and found a cardiologist at a U.S. military hospital who could speak Russian. He spoke to Kovalyov's doctor at the Kremlin clinic. The two doctors determined that Kovalyov's condition required surgery.

The three congressmen and Senator D'Amato then wrote to Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Warren Christopher asking permission to fly Kovalyov from Moscow to the United States to undergo surgery at an American military hospital.

Finerty says staff at both State and Defense departments have been "very good" about the request.

Although final approval for U.S. government financing and sponsorship of the trip has yet to be signed by the appropriate officials, the trip is progressing as planned and Finerty foresees no problems.

According to Finerty, Kovalyov will likely be treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Bethseda Naval Hospital. Both are in Washington.