Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair

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The Dymshits–Kuznetsov aircraft hijacking affair also known as The First Leningrad Trial or Operation Wedding (Russian: Ленинградское самолётное дело, or Дело группы Дымшица-Кузнецова) (Leningrad Process) was an attempt to steal a civilian aircraft on 15 June 1970 by a group of 16 Soviet refuseniks in order to escape to the West. Even though the attempt was unsuccessful, it was a notable event in the course of the Cold War because it drew international attention to human rights violations in the USSR and resulted in temporary loosening of emigration restrictions.


In the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War, the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. To apply for an exit visa, the applicants (and often their entire families) would have to quit their jobs, which in turn would make them vulnerable to charges of social parasitism, a criminal offense.[1] A large number of Soviet Jews applied for exit visas to leave the Soviet Union. While some were allowed to leave, many were refused permission to emigrate, either immediately or after their cases would languish for years in the OVIR (ОВиР, "Отдел Виз и Регистрации", "Otdel Viz i Registratsii", English: Office of Visas and Registration), the MVD (Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs) department responsible for exit visas. In many instances, the reason given for denial was that these persons had been given access, at some point in their careers, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not be allowed to leave.[1]


In 1970, a group of sixteen Refuseniks (two of whom were non-Jewish), organized by dissident Edward Kuznetsov (who already had served a seven-year term in Soviet prison for publishing an anti Soviet newspaper called "Phoenix"), plotted to buy all the seats on a small 12-seater Antonov An-2 (colloquially known as "кукурузник," kukuruznik) on a Leningrad-Priozersk local flight, under the guise of a trip to a wedding; throw out the pilots before takeoff from an intermediate stop; and fly it to Sweden. Their final goal was to arrive in Israel. One of the participants, Mark Dymshits, was a former military pilot. They called it "Operation Wedding."

On 15 June 1970, despite the huge risk of being captured or shot down, the group arrived in Smolny (later Rzhevka) Airport near Leningrad, only to be arrested by the KGB.


The accused were charged for high treason, punishable by the death sentence under Article 64 of the Penal code of the RSFSR. Mark Dymshits (age: 43) and Eduard Kuznetsov (age: 31) were sentenced to capital punishment, but after international protests their sentences were appealed and replaced with 15 years of incarceration. The sentences received by other participants were as follows: Yosef Mendelevitch and Yuri Fedorov, 15 years; Aleksey Murzhenko (age: 27), 14 years; Sylva Zalmanson (age: 25, Kuznetsov's wife then, and the only woman on trial), 10 years; Yosef Mendelewich (age: 22), 15 years; Arie (Leib) Hanoch (age: 25), 13 years; Anatoli Altmann (age: 28), 12 years; Boris Penson (age: 23), 10 years; Israel Zalmanson (age: 21), 8 years; and Wolf Zalmanson (brother of Sylva and Israel), 10 years.

Strong international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to significantly increase the emigration quota. In the years 1960 through 1970, only 4,000 people had (legally) emigrated from the USSR; after the trial, in the period from 1971 to 1980, 300,000 Jews received a visa to leave the USSR.

In September 1974 Sylva Zalmanson was released in a prisoner exchange between the USA and the USSR. After the exchange was made in Berlin, she immigrated to Israel, from where she continued fighting for the freedom of all political prisoners.

On 20 May 1978, three Soviet foreign intelligence officers were arrested in New Jersey while collecting an agent's report from a secret cache. One of them, the attaché of the Soviet mission to the United Nations, Vladimir Zinyakin, had diplomatic immunity and was released. Two others, Rudolf Chernyaev and Valdik Enger, were employees of the UN secretariat who did not have such status, and in October of that year were each sentenced to 50 years in prison. On 27 April 1979, after long negotiations, they were exchanged for five Soviet political prisoners: Aleksandr Ginzburg, Eduard Kuznetsov, Mark Dymshits, Valentin Moroz, and Georgy Vins.

After immigrating to Israel, Kuznetsov headed the news department of "Radio Liberty" (1983-1990), and was the chief editor of the largest Israeli Russian-language newspaper, Вести (1990-1999), the most popular Russian-language newspaper outside of Russia.

"The Committee to Free the Leningrad Three," headed by Colorado State Senator Tilman Bishop, was instrumental in organizing grassroots and diplomatic campaigns to release the remaining prisoners.

In February 1981, Mendelevitch was released and joined his family in Israel. He urged continuance of the campaign to free two Russian members of the group, Fedorov and Murzhenko: "The fact that both are non-Jewish is the worst example of Soviet discrimination and must not pass without protest."

On 15 June 1984, Aleksei Murzhenko was released, only to be rearrested for "parole violation." In June 1985, after serving 15 years, Yuri Fedorov was released under the 101st kilometre settlement restriction. He was denied an exit visa until 1988, when he left for the USA. In 1998, he founded The Gratitude Fund in order to commemorate the Soviet dissidents "who waged a war against Soviet power and sacrificed their personal freedom and their lives for democracy."

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  1. ^ a b The Right to Emigrate, cont. Beyond the Pale. The History of Jews in Russia. Exhibit by Friends and Partners

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