Gone West

updated 05/31/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/31/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TALK ABOUT MISTAKES. BACK IN THE 1950s, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev proudly informed Vice President Richard Nixon, "Your grandchildren will live in a Communist America." Well, not quite. And now Khrushchev's own son, Sergei, 57, and his wife, Valentina, 45, have moved to a decidedly non-Communist U.S.—living proof that father doesn't always know best.

On April 19 the couple became permanent American residents, complete with green cards. They did it with the help of some impressive sponsors, including George Bush and Nikita's old nemesis, Nixon himself, who said that Sergei would "contribute to a better American understanding of Russia."

"It is easier to work in this country," explains Sergei, who was a computer scientist in the Soviet Union and is now an invited senior research fellow in foreign policy at Brown University in Providence. "The biggest surprise since I moved here is the willingness of Americans to help."

The couple came to the U.S. two years ago with just two suitcases, fearful that Russia would fall back into dictatorship. (Sergei's sons from a previous marriage, Nikita, 34, Ilia, 23, and stepson Sergei, 20, stayed behind.) Since their arrival, the Khrushchevs have fashioned a quiet suburban life in Cranston, R.I., where Sergei is writing articles on recent events in Russia while Valentina watches films like The Last Emperor to improve her English. Sergei shrugs off questions concerning what Nikita might have said about the ironic turn of events. "My father liked all the fighting; I am the opposite," he says. "He belonged to another time. I am living in the present."

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