Making The San Fernando Valley More Vibrant
July 23, 2007, 11:29 PM
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The eastern half of the San Fernando Valley has had a big influx in just the last few years of people from a big swath of the planet running from, roughly Moscow to Yemen. Lots of them are good eggs, but a few have definitely made the place more, uh, colorful. For example, there was this gang who kidnapped and murdered five fellow ex-Soviet immigrants from a luxurious house in the hills of Encino.

And now, from the LA Times:

Yana Kovalevsky made a colorful entrance. Not long out of the hospital, she hobbled into her neighborhood Starbucks for an interview on a purple-and-pink-striped cane. A blond-and-brown-streaked wig roosted on her head.

Under the wig, her scalp was a patchy landscape. A traumatic shedding had left the locks that once cascaded to her elbows struggling to regrow.

She needed the cane because a nerve-pinging disorder that somehow combined pain and numbness had turned her legs to rubber.

Last February, during a visit to their native Russia, Kovalevsky, a 27-year-old North Hollywood social worker, and her physician mother became critically ill from the effects of thallium. Their ordeal made worldwide headlines because thallium is a rare poison usually associated with political assassins and murderous inheritance seekers, not with the likes of Yana and Dr. Marina Kovalevsky.

It remains unknown how they came to ingest the tiny but potentially lethal amounts of the heavy metal. Among the other unanswered questions is who targeted them and why — if the poisoning was intentional, as mother, daughter and their doctors now believe. ...

A decade and a half before they were poisoned, the Kovalevskys had been an unheralded part of another international story — the emigration of Soviet Jews. They had followed Marina's brother Dr. Leon Peck, a fellow physician, to the United States. Peck had been a refusenik for 10 years before he received a visa to leave Russia in 1988. The Kovalevskys got out in 1991, settling in Los Angeles and then moving to Louisiana, where Marina, 50, completed a medical residency. They returned to California, where Marina established a family practice out of a West Hollywood storefront.

She is now back at work and has declined to be interviewed, pleading for privacy. Yana said her mother's reticence hardened after FBI agents investigating the poisoning queried her about the Russian American medical community, which has been a focus of insurance fraud inquiries.