Ukrainian native shares memories of Dmitry Feld’s early years in the US

Dmitry Feld (Provided photo)

A very special friend, Dmitry Feld, passed away just a couple of days ago, leaving a huge hole in so many hearts. Although Dmitry and I lost touch for many, many years, I feel a deep sense of loss; a loss for a very dear person who took on the role of a big brother for me during the most challenging time of my immigration journey. We shared a very unique immigrant/refugee experience that connected us and made us feel like family … forever.

We both immigrated from the former Soviet Union (Kyiv, Ukraine) in 1979. We met in Brooklyn, New York, a week after I landed in the U.S. with my mom. I was very lost, stressed, anxious and … poor, a typical Jewish refugee of that cold war era. Dima (as I called him for short) and I became great friends and he, being a few years older, was always watching over me, which at times annoyed me. Oh, how I miss those moments now.

One day he shared that he used to be a part of the national luge team back in Kyiv and he really missed the sport and missed his teammates. This was in 1980, just as the Winter Olympic Games were about to start in Lake Placid, and his former teammates from Ukraine were going to be competing.

Keep in mind that back in the 1970s and 1980s, anyone who escaped the Soviet regime by emigrating to the U.S. was considered an enemy of the state. Soviet citizens were not allowed to communicate directly with anyone who lived in the U.S., especially those who had left the USSR and were considered traitors. We all left our families and friends behind and because of the “iron curtain” there was no hope of ever seeing them again. This was a very high price we had to pay for immigrating.

So, there was no way Dima could just go to the Olympic games and openly hang out with his former teammates. They would be in deep trouble, probably expelled from the team and lose jobs while putting their families in jeopardy. One of the greatest fears of the soviet officials was that they might defect. So these guys were under surveillance day and night during the Olympics. (If you have watched “Moscow on the Hudson,” you know.) But Dima had this crazy idea to see his luge buddies no matter what, and convinced me and another friend of ours, to drop everything and take the six hour drive to Lake Placid. We all said a prayer and got on the road, not knowing where we were going to stay and how to make Dima’s dream come true.

Ilona Glinarsky (Provided photo)

When we arrived, there was one week left before the start of the games. We didn’t have a hotel room, so, instead, we went straight to watch the luge practice runs so Dima could watch his friends go down the track. At some point Dima managed to stand so close to the track that they recognized him, almost causing an accident! We had to instantly leave the location before someone from the team found out.

When we tried to find a hotel, we realized that all the hotels were fully booked. We had very little money and were hoping to find one room with two double beds for four people to share. So, we literally went from one hotel to another and had no luck. Finally, we came to the Holiday Inn and were able to grab the very last room they had available with two double beds.

When we entered, we saw that this room had a locked door inside that connected with another room next door. At first, we didn’t pay much attention to that detail. But then we heard faint voices from the adjacent room. We couldn’t believe our ears. They were speaking Russian and Dima realized that these were his friends from the Soviet Ukrainian luge team, and they were literally staying in the room next to us, with only a “secret door” between us. We checked to make sure no one was spying outside of our door. The coast was clear. Dima knocked quietly and unlocked our side of the door … whispering and letting them know who he is. After a tense moment of silence, they unlocked their side of the door and stood face-to-face looking at us in utter disbelief.

It is impossible to describe the joy of their reunion. They were hugging and crying and laughing and rolling on the floor for what seemed like an hour. It was a moment I will never forget: the kind that makes me still believe in miracles. I will forever cherish this crazy adventure and its amazing outcome.

The next summer, I left New York and moved with my mom to Los Angeles (another crazy story for another day). I never saw Dima again. We lost touch. However, our mutual friend, same one that traveled with us to Lake Placid back in 1980 and the one who informed me of his passing, wrote to me and told me that Dima ended up moving to Lake Placid very soon after that amazing incident and became a major force in the development of USA Luge.

That memorable visit became the turning point in his life. He followed his heart and his dream and became a luge coach for the young athletes, training them and managing them for many years to come. Later, Dmitry has also become a huge part of the Lake Placid’s community, as an activist and a truly inspiring person bordering on the status of a local celebrity. Upon his passing, USA Luge stated, “Dmitry’s contribution to USA Luge is almost immeasurable” and “He was the heart and soul of USA Luge.”

I am so deeply grateful to have been a little part of his life, even just for a short time, and to have him be a part of my own American story.

(Ilona Glinarsky lives in the greater Los Angeles region in southern California.)

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