10.12 A customs ‘examination’ at Sheremetyevo Airport [Moscow]

No 10 : 31 October 1969

In December 1968 the engineer David Khavkin, a former political prisoner in the Mordovian camp, applied to the appropriate authorities for permission to leave the USSR for Israel. In August 1969 his application was refused. After sending in a second application through unofficial channels to Kosygin personally, the Khavkin family were granted permission to leave.

David and Ester Khavkin and their nine-year-old son were due to fly to Vienna on 29 September 1969. At Sheremetyevo International Airport they were asked to undergo a customs examination an hour before departure, and this turned out to be a real ‘body frisk’ in classic camp style. Ester Khavkin was stripped naked, and subjected to a humiliating gynaecological examination. The search lasted more than three hours. The Khavkins missed their plane. When they tried to lodge a complaint, they were told quite openly: ‘If you hadn’t brought this mob here, we’d have let you go straight away’. (Some 186 people had come to see the Khavkins off.) They were refused tickets for the flight of 30 September, on the grounds that ‘the Vienna flight on 30 September is for foreign currency passengers’.

On 1 October, after a five-minute customs inspection, the Khavkins flew off to Vienna.