Freedom! Denisenko released from prison, returns home

Gennady and Melinda Denisenko, seen here at their 2002 wedding, were separated on April 30 when federal immigration officials jailed him in preparation for deportation 17 years after his defection from the Soviet Union.

October 16, 12:11am update: Upon his return home, Denisenko left a voicemail with the following message: "I'm just so happy to tell you I'm home. I'm overwhelmed. Thank you very much to the community of Charlottesville for all that they did. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

More than five months after federal immigration officials put him in handcuffs and led him away from his wife in order to be deported, Gennady Denisenko is finally coming home. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency released the Charlottesville man from Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas last night, and he touched down at Dulles Airport near Washington this morning, where his wife Melinda was to meet him and bring him home Charlottesville.

Neither of the Denisenkos were available for comment at the time of this post, but earlier this month, when Melinda heard that the federal counsel for Citizenship and Immigration Services was re-opening his case and that her husband was coming home, she told the Hook, "Oh, my God, you just want to fall on your knees and yell 'Glory.'"

This comes after Denisenko was just days away from being deported back to Russia. On September 25, his attorney learned that the Russian government had fast-tracked Denisenko’s deportation, and that it was to have been a matter of days before he was to be placed on a plane bound for his native Russia. Denisenko had previously endured five years in a Siberian gulag for being either a bribe-takerРor an outspoken opponent of the Soviet Union and an advocate for democracy in Russia.

In 1991, Denisenko defected to the United States just prior to the USSR's fall, and at that time began applying for political asylum, a status which federal immigration have denied him repeatedly. In 2002, he married his current wife Melinda, moved to Charlottesville to earn his doctorate in Russian language and literature from the University of Virginia.

Denisenko's request to be recognized as the spouse of an American citizen had not been accepted nor rejected by the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency in the six years since he first brought his marriage to their attention. On April 30, Denisenko was detained at the CIS office in Fairfax after being summoned there under the auspices of having his interview with an immigration official to prove the legitimacy of his marriage.

Now, before year's end, Denisenko should have an opportunity to make his case to stay in the United States on the grounds of his marriage in front of a federal immigration judge.


What happens if he doesn't get a green card? Is it back to the gulag for him?

Dear Denizen,

Excellent question. I'm no immigration attorney, but, as I understand it, he may still be eligible for either a temporary or permanent work visa. This is by no means the final word on this story, so I'll see if I can't better answer that question in the next article.

Thanks for reading.

Lindsay Barnes