Mom, Dad Were Russian Spies, and He Just Won Citizenship

Alexander Vavilov can live in Canada. His parents' story inspired 'The Americans'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2019 9:03 AM CST
Updated Dec 28, 2019 12:00 PM CST
A Big Victory for Man Whose Parents Were Russian Spies
Alexander Vavilov, the Toronto-born son of Russian spies, has been granted Canadian citizenship.   (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Alexander Vavilov was born in Toronto 25 years ago. Under normal circumstances, that would automatically give him Canadian citizenship. His particular circumstances, however, were anything but normal. Vavilov's parents were secret Russian spies who were eventually unmasked—a case that inspired the hit TV series The Americans. Vavilov has been fighting to regain his Canadian citizenship for years, insisting he never knew about his parents' spy work, and the nation's top court just decided in his favor. Coverage:

  • His parents: Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova trained as spies in Russia and moved to Toronto, assuming the names Tracey Lee Ann Foley and Donald Howard Heathfield, reports the New York Times. They took their IDs from Canadian infants who died. The couple ran a diaper delivery business, but their real job was gathering intelligence for the KGB.
  • The sons: The couple had two children: Timothy came first and Alexander four years later, in 1994. Both insist they never knew about their parents' secret lives.

  • Arrests: The family eventually moved Boston, where Bezrukov and Vavilova were unmasked and arrested in 2010, per Reuters. The family of four was sent back to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange, and Vavilov (who was 16 at the time) began fighting to have his Canadian citizenship restored.
  • Ruling: Canada's Supreme Court rejected the argument that Vavilov wasn't entitled to citizenship because his parents were employees, albeit secret ones, of a foreign government, reports the Toronto Star. "It's a huge relief," said Vavilov last Friday, after flying to Toronto from Russia. "I am happy to be back in Canada, to be here without this constant doubt in my head, with the ability to finally put down roots and build a life for myself." The ruling applies to Timothy as well, but Vavilov doesn't know if his brother intends to move back.
  • The show: Yes, he's watched The Americans, as have his parents. "On the one hand you can relate to some things, on the other it's Hollywood," he said, per the BBC. He said his parents were motivated by "patriotism." Vavilov denies speculation that his parents had told Timothy of their spy work in an attempt to recruit him.
(Read more Canada stories.)

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