Emigre Jewish family frantic as wife awaits deportation from S.F.

After spending almost three weeks in an Oakland jail, a Russian Jewish piano teacher has less than 30 days to leave the country.

After posting $10,000 bail, Yana Slobodova, 30, of San Francisco, was released from jail on Tuesday, Jan. 27, on the condition that she sign a declaration that she will not seek an appeal in a federal court, and that she will pay for her own ticket back to Russia.

Slobodova was too traumatized to speak about her experiences a day after her release, but her husband, Alexander Makarchuk, said she had shared a cell with a woman accused of murder.

Makarchuk and Slobodova met in 1996 and married in 1999. They have a 20-month-old son, Nikita. Slobovoda’s parents, who live in San Mateo, will be eligible to apply for citizenship in a few months, and Makarchuk was naturalized as a citizen several years ago. His entire family is also in the United States.

Slobodova taught piano for four years at the Community School for Arts and Music in Mountain View.

“She’s an absolutely lovely young woman,” said Angela McConnell, executive director of the school. “She consistently received top marks for being incredibly inspiring and very positive in terms of a being a role model for young students as well as adults.”

Slobodova had to cancel a piano recital with some of her students when she landed in jail.

“When we found out about it, we were blown away,” said McConnell. “It’s just really hit us hard.”

When Slobodova was in her 20s, at the urging of a former boyfriend, she paid some immigration “officials,” who procured her some false papers to leave Russia. She entered the United States in 1996, under false pretenses, but then applied for asylum as a Russian Jew. These circumstances caught up with her the last time she was interviewed by immigration authorities.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services does not comment on individual cases.

“They treat her like she’s a threat to homeland security,” said Makarchuk. “They’re fighting terrorism, but we’re talking about normal people, me and my son as well. Their fighting the terrorists is affecting good people, too.”

While the couple did have an immigration attorney with them at the time Slobodova was released, they can no longer afford to retain her services. Makarchuk said she was suffering in jail, and they were desperate to get her out.

“It’s like putting the baby in front of you, and saying ‘If you don’t sign it you go back to jail,'” said her husband. “‘Agree to these conditions, and then you can go and hug your baby.'”

Makarchuk has consulted his senators and representative, but beyond that, he is at a loss, desperate for help.

Once his wife leaves, he said, “It’s very unlikely she will be able to return to the United States. It will be up to the U.S. consul in Russia, but they’re going to see she was deported, and they’ll just deny her all the time.”

Makarchuk used to make a decent living as a plumber, but because of a back injury he is doing office work at a lower salary. Although his wife is free to take their son with her, Makarchuk is not in favor of that idea, at least for now.

“How can you let a young woman in her position, with no family, go with a little child to a country where she has no one?” he asked. “Nobody’s there, and she has nothing.” Makarchuk said his wife’s father would probably accompany her, at least temporarily, to help her get settled. Once she is able to work, perhaps Makarchuk will take their son to live with her, though he thinks his moving back could be dangerous for him, as a U.S. citizen and a Jew.

Makarchuk sounded a note of desperation, hoping that someone could help them. The Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal is working on their behalf, but at press time, it was unclear what exactly could be done.

“If a good lawyer could at least explain to us what we can do to fix this problem or who we should go to,” he said. “I’m ready to go to Washington and go door to door but I just don’t know what I should do.”

Never in his wildest dreams did Makarchuk think that anything like this could happen in his adopted homeland.

“When people were prosecuted in Russia, everything was done by a couple of people without a hearing or a judge or a jury. They were prosecuted and then they disappeared. That’s what’s happening to Yana.”

He concluded, “I thought the U.S. was different.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."