News / Europe

Lee Harvey Oswald Remembered in Belarus

Kennedy Assassin Remembered in Belarusi
X
November 22, 2013 3:04 PM
For more than two years in the early 1960s, Minsk, then the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, was home to Lee Harvey Oswald. To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interviewed people who knew Oswald during his time in Minsk.
Kennedy Assassin Remembered in Belarus
RFE/RL
For more than two years in the early 1960s, Minsk, then the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, was home to Lee Harvey Oswald. Later on, he would fire the shots that killed President John F. Kennedy. To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interviewed three people who knew Oswald during his time in Minsk. It's the first time the three -- including Stanislau Shushkevich, the first post-Soviet leader of Belarus -- have appeared on camera to tell their stories. They agree that there was nothing to indicate that Oswald could become a president's assassin.
 
Lee Harvey Oswald, a self-declared Marxist, lived in Minsk following his defection to the Soviet Union.
 
The man later accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy tried to renounce his American citizenship and was sent from Moscow by Soviet authorities to work at a Minsk radio factory.
 
During his stay in Minsk, Soviet security services kept a close watch on Oswald, on his movements around the city and on those who surrounded him.
 
Stanislau Shushkevich was the first post-Soviet leader of Belarus. Long before entering politics, Shushkevich worked at the same factory with the American defector. He and another man became Oswald's Russian teachers.
 
"He was a rather closed person and it was hard to tell how educated he was. But his knowledge of Russian was pretty decent and he could exchange views when Sasha and I started teaching him, that's for sure," remembered Shushkevich.
 
A lengthy and highly detailed account of observations about Soviet living and working conditions, called The Collective, was attributed to Oswald during the investigation into Kennedy's death.
 
Shushkevich scoffs at the thought of Oswald authoring such a report.
 
“You know, if I had been asked to take him into my research team, I would have refused immediately, even though I would have been curious to work with an American. I didn’t see any inclination of inquiry or creativity in him. Maybe I'm being unjust, but he showed absolutely no interest in the things that seemed important to me," said Shushkevich.
 
Oswald was not only receiving language education; he was receiving an education in music as well. His new friends took him to hear classical music at Minsk's philharmonic concert hall.
 
Inna Markava met Oswald for the first time at a performance of Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto in E minor." She later visited Oswald at his small apartment, which was located in an exclusive section of Minsk.
 
Markava returned to the apartment to share her impressions of him.
 
"I can’t say he was easy to communicate with. He didn’t evoke any feelings that would leave an impression. Sometimes you meet someone and think, 'Goodness, what a pleasure.' I don’t remember having that feeling with him," recalled Markava.
 
Markava said she thought Oswald was rather ordinary, unathletic, generally reserved, and even boring most of the time. However, she also recalled seeing flashes of something else.
 
"Once, I saw anger in him. Someone said something he didn't like and he became so angry that his face even contorted… He controlled [his emotions] to some degree -- but every now and then, they jumped out," said Markava.
 
At the Institute of Foreign Languages, located near his apartment, Oswald was known for his keen interest in the female students, regularly socializing at the dormitories there. He later wrote of his successes with women, but Markava says not all were impressed.
 
"The girls and I often wondered why he had left America. He could have studied there, worked there. But he cut all his ties. Everybody thought he was odd, like he had crossed some line," remembered Markava.
 
Markava also remembered Oswald teaching language students how to dance "The Twist," and him sometimes going dancing at the Palace of Culture of Trade Unions. It was at one of these events that he met Marina Prusakova.
 
Just six weeks later, in the spring of 1961, Oswald married Marina. Within a year, his wife gave birth to their daughter, June.
 
"Whatever they write about him now - that he was a psychopath, a hot-tempered or threatening person - absolutely none of that is true. I knew him as an absolutely different person, a family person.  I liked him. I don't agree with anything that has been written about him," said Inessa Yakhliel, a close friend of the couple.
 
Documents written by Oswald and discovered after the assassination give the impression he had contradictory views regarding the United States and the Soviet Union. Sometimes he praised one country or the other, while at other times condemning them.
 
Yakhliel remembers hearing Oswald, who used the name Alek, speak highly of President Kennedy.
 
"One day he was at our house and the television was showing a meeting between Khrushchev and Kennedy. You may remember that meeting; I don't remember what year it was exactly. And he spoke about Kennedy very sympathetically. He said he was the only sensible president. Those were his words," said Yakhliel.
 
The commission led by U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded Oswald acted alone in killing the president, but Shushkevich, Markava, and Yakhliel can't accept that conclusion. They believe there must have been some form of conspiracy.
 
"It is my absolute conviction that they found a passive, calm, compliant boy, and used him as the guilty one. And then they washed their hands of it. As for the conclusions of the Warren Commission, I don’t believe them one bit. I have studied them and I don’t think it was the work of my student," said Shushkevich.
 
"I didn't believe he could have done it. It seemed to me that he was framed, using the whole situation with the Soviet Union. I didn't think he could have done it. Or he would have been completely insane to do it,” added Markava.
 
"None of us, none of his friends here, believed it. Some knew him a lot less that I did - actually, they knew Marina more than Alek. But I came to know him well. I don't believe it," Yakhliel said.
 
Lee Harvey Oswald appeared to be a different man in different places with different people. He showed the world many faces.
 
Nonetheless, the face the world saw in Dallas will be forever associated with the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs