Discovering that an enemy may be … a good friend.

Map of the western hemisphere showing the full range of the nuclear missiles under construction in Cuba, used during the secret meetings on the Cuban crisis in 1962. (From the the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
A “monster”? No. That’s what Judy Goddard Satterthwaite discovered, much to her surprise. It’s something most of us might discover if we take time to learn more about the people we all-too-easily regard as mortal enemies. Judy is an industrial consultant. As a child, she was raised a Christian Scientist, which she says helps her focus on the positive aspects of life—and of the people she meets. Growing up in a religious minority also gave her an appreciation for others who are in the minority.

Here is Judy’s story …

One of many street scenes in eastern Europe during the fall of Communism.About 20 years ago, a Russian professor from Kiev named Valerie Kadyrov contacted me and asked if I would be interested in selling his product in the United States. Having been in sales for a while, I already knew that I loved to converse and mingle with others. I told him that I would be more than happy to help sell his product.

I ended up visiting Kiev, Ukraine, in December 1991. I wanted to see the product I would be selling—which was, in fact, a detonation coating process—in operation, so that I could better explain and sell the idea to customers in the U.S. I also brought a cash advance from another partner in the U.S. so that the Kadyrov family would have some money to work with.

My visit occurred just after the Soviet Union was dissolved, and it was quite apparent that the economy was struggling. I stayed with Valerie Kadyrov and his wife, Ludmila, in their apartment. Valerie’s son, Erik, was studying advanced physics at the University of Wisconsin and was hoping to work on a superconductor. When I arrived in Kiev, their daughter moved in with a friend temporarily so that I could stay in her room.

Professor Kadyrov was one of the 5,000 Ph.D.s working at the Institute of Materials Sciences in Kiev—he was part of the Russian “brain trust” living in that city. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, the institute had no money. As a result, many of the scientists who had salable projects were trying to market them in whatever way they could. There were many other technical advances developed at the institute in addition to the coating process that Valerie was trying to market to the U.S. During a tour of the facilities, I saw a fabric of Basalt rock, made by melting the rock and forming it into a fine hollow thread that was then woven into a silky fabric. There was a demonstration of new welding processes—glass to metal (very new at the time)—and several other advances in materials applications.

The Kadyrov home was a modest, two-bedroom apartment. The hallways were dark and we always walked up the stairs to their floor because electricity was at a premium. They had put up and decorated a small Christmas tree for me in their sitting room. During the course of my visit, Ludmila took me to see the art museum, a beautiful church, and displays of miniatures and historical artifacts. At the museum, the lights were turned on when visitors entered a room and quickly turned off as soon as they moved on. Heat was kept at a minimum. I was especially intrigued by the fact that Ukraine had new currency—but no coins! As a result, all the pay phones in the city were free. People were expected to “take turns” using the phones so all could make their calls as needed. Ludmila was determined that I see the beauty and culture of Kiev, while Valerie insisted I visit the war museum, which was fronted by a statue that paid tribute to victory and Russian MiG planes.

Both of the Kadyrovs were very concerned for my safety. I was never to go out alone! Even when I ventured out with Ludmila, Valerie suggested that I wear one of her coats so I didn’t look so “Western.” I would spend evenings telling Ludmila about my sons and my life in America. She understood more English than I did Russian. I learned how to say “okay” in Russian—we both said that word a lot!

Ludmila and Valerie were also intent upon showing me a pleasant time, so we ate at an ice cream parlor and went to a circus. Valerie’s daughter and her boyfriend took me to see a performance of Romeo and Juliet by the Russian Ballet Theater at the Kiev Opera House. Money and goods were very scarce, so I appreciated all they did to make me feel welcome.

The last evening, Ludmila and I shopped for groceries. She struggled mightily with a decision to buy (or not buy) a cake for dessert. In the end, she left me at the car and ran back to the bakery to get the cake for my last dinner with them. I expressed my wonder, which bordered on awe, at all that she was able to do to care for her family under such difficult circumstances. That’s when she told me that she was used to hardships and difficulties—years before, when her children were small, they lived in a secure village in the Ural Mountains where she had worked as a nuclear scientist. In fact, she had traveled to Cuba and other countries around the world, to help with the installation of nuclear weapons facilities for the Communist government! I was, at first, both surprised and stunned. However, the beauty of the times we had just shared made her startling revelation a minor piece of who she had become in my eyes. She was Ludmila, the gentle soul who was a gracious hostess under difficult circumstances, who laughed with me and cried with me, and struggled to speak some English to me when I could speak very little Russian.

The sweet little blond woman who had opened her home and her heart to me was one of the Russian nuclear scientists that we, in the West, had pictured as demonic monsters! She was no monster—she was a loving wife to her husband, a mom who worried about her kids and someone who had welcomed a visitor from the United States into her home, demonstrating a truly warm heart.

If we are willing to be open to others—to listen and learn and share—we will find many more similarities than differences. Even though languages and circumstances may separate us, hearts can unite us.

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