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Inclined to Escape - The Daring Journey of Yuri Vetokhin from Soviet Chains

Meet the incredible Yuri Aleksandrovich Vetokhin (March 19, 1928 – March 6, 2022), a daring writer and defector who challenged the Soviet Union. Attempting three escapes, he leaped from a cruise ship in 1979, swimming 30 km to freedom. His memoir "Inclined to Escape" vividly recounts his audacious journey.

Born in Leningrad in 1928, Yuri Vetokhin’s early life was marked by tragedy when, during the siege of Leningrad, his parents perished in 1942. His uncle rescued the half-dead 13-year-old Yuri, transporting him across the ice of Lake Ladoga to an evacuation point.

Yuri's journey began with studies at the Leningrad Naval School, but his life took a turn when his wife accused him of anti-Sovietism, leading to a turbulent divorce. Despite serving as a navigator and being a Communist Party member, Yuri's desire for freedom prevailed.

In 1958, having left military service, Vetokhin moved to Leningrad. Throughout the 1960s, he worked as the chief engineer of the computer center of the Leningrad Engineering and Economic Institute, joined the Leningrad City Literary Association, and began preparing to escape abroad.




Image of Yuri Vetokhin



First Escape

On August 13, 1963, Yuri executed his initial escape attempt, swimming across the USSR border from Batumi to Turkey. Lost in a night storm, he was arrested on August 14 and taken to the headquarters of the border troops of the Adjarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Despite eight days of detention and interrogation, he managed to hide his intentions by posing as a marathon swimmer and was eventually released.

 

Second Escape and Imprisonment

On July 12, 1967, he made a second attempt to escape from the southern coast of Crimea but was discovered, arrested, and taken aboard a warship of the Black Sea Fleet. This led to charges under various articles of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR, ultimately resulting in Yuri's confinement to mental hospitals and prisons.

Before the verdict was passed, he was held in Kharkov prison and then in Kherson prison. A forensic psychiatric examination in December 1967 declared him healthy, leading to his transfer to Moscow with a note on his personal file “inclined to escape,” which later became the title of his book. Held in Butyrskaya and Lefortovo prisons, he was eventually sent to the Dnepropetrovsk psychiatric special hospital in March 1968. The extensive treatments rendered him practically bedridden by the end of 1974.


Liberation and Third Escape

In 1975, he admitted mental illness, leading to his release from compulsory treatment. After his discharge, Yuri worked as a loader and began preparations for a new escape.



The cruise ship “Ilyich”

 

In October 1979, he purchased a ticket for a cruise ship journey from Vladivostok along the Japanese and Philippine Islands to the equator and back. On November 28, as part of a group of tourists, Vetokhin flew to Vladivostok. On November 29, the cruise ship “Ilyich,” carrying 500 tourists, including Vetokhin, set off on a journey.

 

On December 9, 1979, as the ship, preparing to return, was drifting in the Molucca Sea, approximately 30 kilometers from the Indonesian islands, Vetokhin, waiting until dark, executed his escape. Hanging from the backside of the porthole, he jumped from an 8-meter height and, after swimming about 30 kilometers in 20 hours, reached one of the islands.

 


After completing legal formalities in Indonesia and securing political asylum, Yuri moved to the United States in early 1980, residing in San Diego. His autobiographical book “Inclined to Escape,” went through several reprints and brought him fame.

In 1989, the non-governmental organization Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge awarded Yuri Vetokhin the medal “For Courage.” Vetokhin gave lectures in the USA and Canada about his escape and in support of Soviet dissidents, also appearing on Radio Liberty.




Inclined to Escape by Yuri Vetokhin. Image credts: Ebay. Seller: The Rare Book Collective


Until his passing in 2022, Yuri led an active lifestyle, driving cars, swimming, fishing, and traveling extensively. His story is a testament to resilience, courage, and the unwavering pursuit of freedom, with his memoir serving as a gripping account of a life shaped by defiance and the relentless quest for liberty.

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