An inside look into a FBI investigation of a Soviet immigrant

Many people who have relatives who escaped the USSR know the feeling of having closed-off relatives. Making them talk about their lives in the USSR and how they managed to escape the USSR is a conversation that goes nowhere.

After getting my hands on a FBI file on a Soviet immigrant who came to the USA after WWII, I have a better understanding of why some Soviet immigrants are so reclusive.

A friend of mine, who left Russia for Ukraine, asked me to find information on his Ukrainian great-grandfather. I obtained his great-grandfather’s Alien File (see below for more information) from the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services. For some reason, several pages were blank and stamped with CONFIDENTIAL.

That got my curiosity peaked. I appealed the USCIS’ decision to deny me access to the pages by sending an appeal in the form of a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI. (My personal file at the FBI must be growing from my curiosity.)

A few weeks later, an envelope from the FBI came in the mail. The “secrets” of a man I’ll call Vladimir Ivanov were revealed.

He got the attention of the FBI for visiting the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York City. In simple terms, Vladimir visited the office representing the Soviet Union for the United Nations.

Like in the movies, they detailed in the FBI file Vladimir’s appearance from his hair to clothes. Obviously, a FBI agent was watching who was visiting this office. The report goes on “Upon departing the SMUN this unknown male boarded an IRT subway train and repeatedly asked directions of other individuals in the car. He was observed to speak in a heavy accent and on one occasion was overheard to advise another subway passenger that he was from Lithuania.”

I can imagine a FBI agent in a trench coat, sitting in the subway train with his newspaper covering his face. Then the agent followed Vladimir onto a bus to Patterson, N.J., where Vladimir visited Manpower to look for temp jobs. The agent gets a Manpower employee to reveal his identity and activities as an employee.

The FBI agent contacts the Immigration and Naturalization Service to learn more about Vladimir’s immigration process and life in the USA and then a bank for his credit records, which didn’t exist. The final stop was the Patterson Police Department to check for any criminal activity. Vladimir only had paid a $100 fine for drunkenness.

Even though there isn’t any evidence that he could be a Soviet spy, the investigation runs from February to June 1966, all because he visited that office.

All of this makes me wonder about how many Soviet immigrants were investigated and documented by the FBI. The fear of Soviet immigrants must have spread from FBI agents doing these investigations.

Soviet immigrants came to this country for freedom and a better life, but who was being watched as if they were still in the Soviet Union? Only the FBI knows.

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Guide to finding family in Ukraine like a native expert

It’s taken years to figure out how to use the best-known database for searching out Ukrainian family. Then, the improved search abilities at the two most popular social networks in Ukraine have made it incredibly easy to find relatives.

With following these guidelines, finding family will be easier than could be imagined. These tips even have been useful in finding birth families of adoptees, who usually know so little about their families.

Here’s how to find long-lost family in Ukraine. A laptop or desktop computer is highly recommended.

1. Create profiles on and, the most popular social networks in Ukraine. They are available in English.

2. Have relatives’ names and hometowns translated on Google Translate. If Google Translate doesn’t work well, try this website for Russian translations. Then translate on Google Translate from Russian to Ukrainian.

3. Visit Google Maps and search for your relatives’ hometowns, make a list of surrounding villages, towns and cities and then have them translated into Russian and Ukrainian. (Of course, keep all the translated names and places in a Word document or a similar program.)

4. Then, go to this database of Ukrainian residents. Don’t worry if you don’t know a word of Russian. Here are the translations of each search box from left to right: фамилия (last name); имя (first name);  отчество (patronymic name, i.e. Nikolaevna, Sergeevich); нас. пункт (location/city/town/village); ул. (street); дом (house number/street number); and кв (apartment number). Here is a sample of how the results will appear.

The sample above shows the full name, birthdate, hometown and street address are given on each person, with some people having phone numbers.

5.  Start the search with only the last name in Russian, unless common last names are being searched. This will give  you a good idea of how common the name is in Ukraine. (Remember that sometimes surnames end differently for men and women. Make sure to search both version of surnames.)

6. This website limits viewing of result pages to 50 pages per day. If the results cover more than 50 pages, then refine the search by hometown.

7. If results no longer appear after searching by surname and hometown in Russian, try the Ukrainian versions. Also search for the surnames in the surrounding cities, towns and villages in Russian and Ukrainian.

8. Families may have moved to another place. Copy and paste the place of residence from Вся Украина – жители into Google to see where it is located. If the full name is uncommon and the birthdate seems possible for that person, it could be the correct person even if their place of residence is far from their last known address. The chances are higher of having a good match if the place of residence is in the same region as their last known residence.

8. To be completely thorough in researching good matches for relatives, search for other people who lived at the same address. Copy their hometown, street and house number into a Word document and paste those keywords into the proper search boxes to get the names of other residents for that address.

Find their profiles on and The people may have moved since the database was created so find them online.

1. Search for the relatives on and using your new accounts. Copy and paste the relative’s name in the top search box.

2. If too many matches appear, scroll down to the filter for extra options on the bottom right on Then enter his or her birthdate. The birthdate filter on is under age on the right.

3. If the all the results disappear, search only by first name and  birthdate. Then when too many results appear, reduce the results by adding their place of residence and nearby cities, towns and villages. The regions and neighborhoods of each place will need to be known on

4. When good matches appears, view all the details of their profile. Then look at their friends. Look for friends who have the same last name as your relatives.

5. Some people on only allow friends to send them messages. To go around that, message friends who live in the same town or nearby. Then search for their profile on to see if his/her profile is open there.

When relatives still can’t be found, it’s time to find some neighbors who could help on

7. The last option is searching for neighbors of the address found on Вся Украина – жители. You’ll need to make temporary changes to your profile. Click on your name on the top right corner, click on edit under my profile, click on contact info under basic info. Change country, city, district and street to where your relative lived.

Then press save, click on my profile in the left column, click on show full information under birthdate and marital status, click on the house number or street name shown for the hometown address to find everyone who has listed as living at the same address or nearby.

8. Send polite messages to people found in the results, asking if they know of your relatives, and remember to say thank you for responding.

9. Step 7 can be avoided when searching in small towns and villages. Message friendly-looking people who are at least 30 years old to see whether they know any information.

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