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Emigres Prefer American `Wallet Control'

IN halting English, Valeriy Lebedev reads the computer-printed message on the envelope: ``Valeriy Lebedev, you've completed the final stage - $10 million is yours - guaranteed!''

``In Russia, America looks like a country where dreams and miracles come true,'' says Mr. Lebedev, a Russian citizen who moved to Boston last December with his wife, Yelena Nikola-Yevskaya. ``Some Russians come here and get caught up in miracles. They enter these sweepstakes and lotteries and wind up with nothing.''

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The experience of Lebedev, his wife, and other Russian emigres across the United States is the subject of a Russian-produced television series that will air in Russia in late January. During an interview for the special, Lebedev observes that Russia's switch to a free-market economy will be complicated by the lack of extensive bank records and tax systems.

``In America, if you don't pay your bills, nobody tells you you're a bad person,'' he says, ``you just don't get the loan or the mortgage you need. In Russia, they want to control your thoughts; in America, they control your wallet.''

Since his arrival in the US, Lebedev, a former professor, has earned a living writing for Novoye Russkoye Slovo (``The New Russian Word''), a Russian-language newspaper in New York.

``It would be impossible to transfer America's experience to Russia,'' he says. ``It can be useful, but it's not transferable. Russia is not ready for this yet. It will take a few generations to change psychology.''

Lebedev underlines his point with a story: Twice he parked his car in places that seemed deserted, only to come back and find that his car had been towed. ``Russians have this idea that `If nobody is using it, I'll use it.' It's hard for them to understand the concept of private property.''

Ms. Nikola-Yevskaya started off working at a big discount department store in downtown Boston. She says the American and Russian retail attitudes are diametrical opposites. ``People always smile here. They talk to the shoppers and help them. It's a very flexible system.''

She says she has learned an important lesson about capitalism. ``Here, it's OK to start out in a non-prestigious job,'' she says. ``You're not looked down upon.''

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Educated at the renowned Moscow Institute of Physics, Nikola-Yevskaya later found a job as a computer program analyst in a Boston suburb. ``It's like paradise,'' she says, adding that her strong math background more than made up for her lack of familiarity with advanced American computers. ``The technology was easy,'' she says. ``I had some things to teach them.''

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