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The Ukrainian poet Irina Ratushinskaya, 40, was one of the last prominent dissident writers to be imprisoned by the Soviet regime. In 1986, after four years in a labour camp, she was released and allowed to come to the West with her husband, Igor Geraschenko. Igor Geraschenko, 41, was the first Ukrainian witness to testify before the US Congressional inquiry into the Chernobyl disaster. He now helps Ukrainian and Russian businessmen to set up in the West. For five years, he and Irina Ratushinskaya have lived in London with their sons.

IRINA RATUSHINSKAYA: Our parents knew each other before either of us was born. Igor's family moved from Odessa to Kiev, but they always kept in touch. When Igor was six and I was five, we all went away for a summer holiday - that's when we were introduced.

Igor's father had a high position with the Academy of Science. He had a private car, which was very prestigious in the Soviet Union. On holiday, there were four adults, Igor, his older sister Larisa, and me, which was one too many for the car. We drove along the beach and camped in wild places, always making sure the police couldn't see seven of us. If the extra child had been discovered, Igor's father would have been fined, which would have been the end of our holiday. Igor and I took it in turns to di sappear under a car rug. My second memory of Igor is being sent, at the age of nine, to Pioneer Camp in Kiev. Before camp, Igor, Larisa and I had a week by ourselves. Their parents were working, so we were completely out of control in the flat, doing fo r bidden things. Igor's mother had a collection of curious salt crystals which we used to lick, until one day, she noticed the crystals were getting smaller. Our life seemed so free, but I'm not sure it was safer then - children were kidnapped and murdered , but because there was never any information, we didn't hear about them. A girl from my class disappeared. No one knew what happened to her. The militia kept their secrets.

Igor and I have never had a fight, but growing up together we had endless arguments. When it came to defending Odessa or Kiev as the best place, we were both little patriots. Despite the arguments, Igor was always special, but only as a friend.

Igor wanted to be a physicist like his father. I had no particular ambitions and just wanted to be myself - to be independent. Although I knew I would never be a great scientist, for me physics and maths were far away from ideology. I thought if I studied them at university, I wouldn't be in danger of being controlled by ideology, so I took a degree in physics. Literature was what I loved, but I would have been taught how and what to write and ideology would have spoilt my hand. I wanted five care-free years for myself at university. For Igor, it was serious study, night and day.

I was 24 and Igor was 25 when we surprised each other by falling in love. We were at a New Year's Eve party. Igor danced with me. I don't know exactly how it happened, but we kissed, and after we kissed we no longer saw each other with friends' eyes. Tw o months later, on my birthday, Igor arrived, without warning, in Odessa. He had come to propose formally. He is convinced he told me he was coming, but I know he didn't, because I was in a bad mood and wanted to spend my birthday with my books. Igor ofte

n thinks he's told me something when he hasn't. Usually a girl knows when a man is going to ask her to be his wife, but I was completely surprised. A dance, a kiss, and now marriage? I didn't know what to answer. It was such a big step. We both believe in God, so for us marriage would be for ever.

We decided to experiment. I would take my savings to Kiev, where Igor and I would live in sin. Even now, I am surprised that my parents didn't protest. I arrived in Kiev in April 1979, and we were married that November.

By 1982, I had published some poems and Igor was editing an underground literary magazine. …