MOSCOW - For years, Natalya Martynova could not bear to browse through the photographs depicting her contented family life in Alexandria, Va.
They reminded her too painfully of her husband, who had led a spy's double and perhaps triple life while working in the Soviet Embassy in Washington, and who had been executed after their return to Moscow in 1985.
"Those were the best years of my life," Martynova recalled. "I could not look at that happy face and wonder who was that happy woman."
But when veteran counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames was arrested last February and was revealed as a KGB mole who had betrayed many U.S. agents, Martynova decided to confront her past. For among the 10 or more Russians whose deaths Ames allegedly caused with his revelations was her husband, Valery Martynov, who was 41 years old when a firing squad gunned him down May 28, 1987.
Ames has been sentenced to life in prison, and his treason, greed and indiscretions have been amply described. But until now, the fate of his alleged victims and their families has remained in the shadows.
In her recent interview, Martynova, now 48 and a Moscow librarian, described the shattering of her family's life, the troubles and poverty she faced as a traitor's widow in the Soviet Union and the pain she and her children - a son, now 24, and a daughter, 17 - still carry with them.
"My daughter is a grown-up girl now, but she is still crying for him," Martynova said in softly accented English. "If there is a second life, I think he is very satisfied because she still loves him very much."
Martynova has not remarried - she is "a woman of single love," she said - and still carries with her the shock and bewilderment she felt when she was lured out of Washington nine years ago to Moscow and Lefortovo prison.
"I still have much fear," she said, "and I will go to the grave with this feeling."
But last summer, after Ames' arrest had brought her husband's name into the public arena, Martynova summoned her courage and telephoned the U.S. Embassy here to inquire whether her children might be entitled to U.S. government assistance.
The American with whom she talked promised to call back that day, but Martynova so far has heard nothing.
"If he was really working for them, I think some kind of help would be fair," she said. "Of course, maybe it was all concocted here, and he was not working for the Americans. I am sure I will never know the truth. . . . The main thing is that I want my children to be somehow protected."
The Martynov family arrived in Washington on Nov. 4, 1980 - the day of Ronald Reagan's election as president, Martynova recalled. Her husband was nominally assigned to the cultural section of the Soviet Embassy, she said.
In fact, with a sophisticated background in science, he was working for the KGB's division of technological espionage - "Line X," as it was known.
Martynova knew her husband worked for the KGB, but that did not prevent the family from living a fairly normal and happy life in Alexandria, she said. Together, they traveled - to Annapolis, Md., to Philadelphia, "of course, to New York" - and she loved the United States, she said.
If her husband was working for the FBI, she was unaware of it, she said.
Nor can she imagine what his motive might have been. She never saw extra money, and while her husband criticized the Soviet system, so did everyone in those days, she said. "There was nothing unusual about it."
In 1985, Martynov was instructed to return to Moscow, accompanying Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB agent who had defected to the United States and then, in a bizarre incident, re-defected back to the Russians.
Her husband left home without any apparent worries, donning his fur hat and giving her a jaunty wave. That was the last time Martynov's daughter, then 8, would see her father. It was the last time anyone in the family would see Martynov free.
Ten days later, Martynova received a note from her husband saying he had reinjured a bum knee while carrying luggage, was laid up in the hospital, and wanted her and the children to join him in Moscow. In those days, she said, telephone contact was rare, and she flew out of Washington without further ado.
Only later, she said, did she realize the note must have been dictated to him.
Once she landed on Soviet territory, officials at the airport whisked her children away to her mother's apartment and took her directly to Lefortovo prison for questioning.
At first, the KGB did not reveal what crimes they were alleging her husband had committed. Soon, however, she learned the charge would be high treason.
Martynova was interrogated repeatedly but never was held overnight in jail. During the next two years, before and after her husband's sentencing, she was allowed to see him four times. Each time, he looked older and more despairing, she said.
She did not learn of her husband's execution until nine days after it took place. Authorities had misaddressed the notice.
To this day, Martynova said, she does not know what her husband may have done and what Ames told the KGB about him.
But she said she thinks her children deserve answers.
"If he did not work for America, why was he shot?" she asked. "And if he did do something for America, why has America turned its back on him?"