Life at the All Union Cardiology Center: Moscow 1987 - 1991


Recently, Alla Kuznetsova (now at Columbia University), whom I met at the All Union Institute of Experimental and Theoretical Cardiology in Moscow, asked why I had not photos from my work in Russia.  I first went to Moscow during the USSR days (1987) following an invitation from Leo Rosenstraukh – to work with Adas Undrovinas (at Henry Ford Hospital), Nail Burnashev (at Berk Sakmann’s lab in Heidelberg) and Slava Nesterenko (at Charlie Antzelowitz’s lab in Utica) in Leo’s lab and Vika Bolotina (at Boston University) in Peter Brezhestovski’s (in Paris) lab.  I also had the good fortune to connect with Boris Khodorov (still in Moscow) and Yuri Zilberter (at the Karolinska).  I took a large number of photos – since I was able to watch the evolution of the early Gorbachev era in Moscow (I was actually picked up by the KBG for taking some photos – that’s another story).  I was fortunate to work in Moscow for 1 –2 months every year from 1987 – 1991, thus being part of the change, the inflation, the uncertainty and the warmth and openness of my Russian friends.  I then shifted my work to Valentin Krinsky’s (now in Nice France) laboratory in Pushchino and continued collaborations with yearly visits.  Many of these adventures occurred before web-technology – and in fact, in 1987 and 1988 there was no email.  Only in 1989 was their email (but controlled by the library at the Institute, and only 1 terminal).  Alla reminded me that I probably had some interesting photos from these early days.  So, I started looking. 


The Cardiology Institute


Here is the Cardiology Center – recently constructed and located at the extreme of one of the metro lines (Krylotskoe ??)




My first year, I stayed at the Soyuz – and shared a car / driver (Yura) with the Insitute Director (I think) and slept with my visa




I discovered ice fishing outside my hotel  as well as Pepsi and Fanta






I was in Leo Rosenzhtraukh’s lab with Adas, Nail, Slava, Ilya, Olga, Vika  and many others.  The patch clamp (1987) behind Nail was contructed by these guys and produced unbelievable results, when all went well.  Ilya prepared very special cells.  Vika was scientist, entertainer, cook, dishwasher and mother.  But as you can see, she is too serious  (now at Boston University where serious folks go).






US-USSR Symposium:  1990


In 1990, there was a symposium where we all presented some research results.   Here are David Clapham, Mike Rosen, Harold Strauss, and John Shephard



Then Leo and friends presented a very special research result:  a fantastic party

  Leo (left)  had something to say,  and Alla (right) was always listening and making our time very pleasant




All others simply enjoyed the wonderful dinner – quite a treat in 1990 USSR



There was even a small concert




Alla Malen’kaya  I Alla Bol’shoya then entertained Harold and a few others to the delights of St. Petersburg




Life Outside the Institute:  Amateur Radio Friends



After the first 2 years, I discovered that I was a sort of prisoner of the institute – without any language skills, it was impossible to find out about ordinary Russian (Soviet) life.  So being an amateur radio operator, I started listening for Moscow stations, heard several and made contact with 4 very unuaual families;


Nik (UV3GZ),  Nik’s daughter, Olga, and  Vlad (RW3AG) with Nik, 




Valera (RZ3DC)  and Slava (my unofficial driver) and Valera’s Irena and their hospitality





and Leon and his family  (another sharing of the kitchen with the radio)




Nik worked magic with the government official and was able to obtain for me, permission to operate a radio in the Moscow region – and as far as I know, I was the first American licensed to operate in the Moscow Region -  moreover, my first contacts were on 4 July 1990 from the Moscow State University Radio Club




And, I actually  made a remarkable number of radio contacts:






A Changing Moscow:  1987 – 1991


Coming to Moscow in 1987 gave me the opportunity to watch history changing at a rate that was completely unexpected.  To try to capture this, I not only took photos, but saved receipts of a variety of things.  Below is what I saw and was able to be part of.


Probably one of the first changes I observed was on the Moscow Ring Road  (see the blue map in the background).  Each morning, Yuri would fetch me from the hotel and take me to the Institute, via the ring road  (the big outer ring road, not the downtown Garden Ring Road).  Coming home one afternoon I saw some guys preparing shashlik (shish-ka-bob) – a local specialty , so we stopped, watched, bought a sample and had an early dinner.  The  computer below, used to calculate the price (by weight) worked well in adverse environments, and needed no external power.




At the same time, all sorts of things were for sale on street corners.  You never went anywhere without a bag.  You stood in all queue – and purchased whatever was available, knowing that if you did not need it, one of your friends would probably need it.  Here, soap, bananas, fish – you name it – was for sale.


Carrying a bag  …………………………………………..selling bananas …………………..selling milk




selling soap……………………………………………selling potatoes…………………………………….selling radishes



But with all the free market activity -  there were “official shortages” – so rationing started – first with vodka  and of course, since Gorbachev had eliminated strong drink, there was a run on sugar, so sugar was rationed also and finally, an “invitation to purchase” …




Markets appeared everywhere, but the most predictable place was at each Metro entrance where food was trucked in from the south and sold directly from the backs of trucks.  Organized crime, though, (in my opinion) quickly figured out the protection racket and some days there was a burned-out spot where a truck was parked yesterday.



The hallmark of perestroika, (as seen in the red banner on Gorky street) was the appearance of McDonalds, across the street from Pushkin Park.  In spite of all the uncertainty, the Canadians had managed to build a completely vertically integrated system to feed a McDonald’s fast food palace. I took Natasha (my 10 year old “daughter”) to McDonald’s just after it opened.  We waited in line for about 1 hour.  Natasha ordered a Big Mac, Fries, Ice Cream and a huge Coka Cola.  She managed to eat everything.




Life Outside the Institute:  Inside a Russian family


One night at Slava’s flat, there was a party in progress next door.  I was invited to this party and several people invited me to visit their work to see something of life outside the Cardiac Center.  For me, it was an opportunity to see something different from my radio colleagues.  These folks were doctors at local polyclinics and programmers and business-men.  One family, Klara, Sveta and Natasha, invited me to their flat and that was the beginning of a long friendship.  They are currently in San Juan Costa Rica, and doing well, the last time I heard from them.  Here is something of their life.




On weekends we would go to the Arbot or to the Moscow River and lake, at the end of Prospek Zhukova and swim or row a boat or simply watch the sun set




Or we would go downtown and look at “real” reconstruction





Perhaps the most interesting, was to watch folks waiting to visit Lenin in his tomb.  After 1991, the line became quite short, and I actually visited Lenin.



More later -  under construction


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Copyright 2000 C. Frank Starmer