Publisher's Letter

updated 04/06/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev began making changes in the U.S.S.R., Managing Editor Patricia Ryan saw an opportunity to do a handful of stories about ordinary Russians and their concerns. Two years later the result is this issue, entirely devoted to Soviet singers, athletes, writers, a film director—all more famous at home than abroad—plus a sampling of what we in America call just folks.

"All the time, you can read stories about political prisoners and refuseniks and the Bolshoi Ballet," Ryan notes. "What we wanted were stories that reflected everyday existence in the Soviet Union." Assistant Managing Editor Hal Wingo, aided by Washington Bureau Chief Garry Clifford, persisted through more than a year of negotiations with Soviet authorities before permission finally came last October. After a hectic shopping spree for parkas and insulated boots, the PEOPLE team set off in mid-October for a six-week, eight-city, 25,000-mile expedition that took them from Moscow to Leningrad to the Crimea and Siberia and points in between.

Those making the trip:

•Senior Editor James W. Seymore Jr., 44, a first-timer in the U.S.S.R. and nicknamed nachal'nik ("Big Chief"), coordinated reporting and edited this issue;

•Assistant Editor Montgomery Brower, 28, who studied Russian at Dartmouth, had spent the summer of 1979 at the University of Leningrad;

•Assistant Editor Susan K. Reed, 30, who as the grandniece of John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World (the basis for the movie Reds), found herself a celebrity in the U.S.S.R.;

•Photographer Mimi Cotter, 43, who did graduate work in Russian studies at Georgetown University and has led tours through the Soviet Union;

•Photographer Jiri Jiru, 43, who found Russian a required language during his school days in Prague.

In preparation, Seymore and his team met with Jonathan Sanders, assistant director of the Harriman Institute for Russian Studies at Columbia University, and émigré journalists, and buried themselves in books and news reports about their subject. They then updated the list of people they wanted to interview and photograph and presented it to the Soviet press agency Novosti. "There was usually a tug of war over what we wanted to see and what Novosti wanted us to see," says Seymore, "but they worked diligently on our behalf arranging interviews and schedules."

Most of what our writers wanted, they got. "We really worked," says Reed, who still considers the adventure "the trip of a lifetime." One disappointment: On a rare free day she went to the Hermitage museum in Leningrad and discovered "it was the one day of the week it was closed."

When the quintet returned, it was apparent that the stories and more than 9,500 photographs they had brought back warranted an entire issue. "We think what we have here is an unprecedented view of the Soviet people in their daily lives," says Seymore. We agree—and couldn't be prouder about publishing it.

From Our Partners