The Soviet Union long dismissed reports of unidentified flying objects as mere flights of Western fancy, and the party newspaper Pravda on one occasion derided them as "fairy tales." Pravda will have to change its mind: the Kremlin itself has now decided to keep a closer eye out for flying saucers. After a flurry of UFO sightings in recent weeks, many of them by presumably reliable Aeroflot and military pilots, the Soviet Union has named a team of 18 scientists and air force officers, backed by 1,000 field observers, to study the phenomenon in the Red skies.
Appropriately enough, the Communist UFOs tend to sickle shapes rather than full saucers. Moscow Aviation Institute's Professor Fedor Y. Zigel, who is plugging for a joint UFO investigation by Soviet, U.S. and other scientists, says that one flaming "sickle" over the Ukraine even executed evasive maneuvers when tracked by a plane. Zigel tantalized Moscow TV viewers two weeks ago by raising the possibility that, while such observations could be due to optical illusions or mischievous atmospherics, they might also mean visitors from another world.
Once their existence was officially acknowledged by Moscow, UFOs began popping up all over the East bloc. The Bulgarians have reported "a huge, shining body" over Sofia, the Czechs have seen flat, multicolored disks spinning over Bratislava, and Poland's Institute of Hydrology and Meteorology has ordered a watch on all "mysterious space vehicles." UFOs have been particularly ubiquitous in Yugoslavia, whose press has gleefully recounted a Montenegrin shepherd's report of a whistling, skyscraper-high UFO, told of UFOs streaking over the Istrian port of Koper, and detailed Truck Driver Milika Scepanović's brush with two saucers on the Kovina-Ivangrad road last week.
As in the West, there are skeptics. Some Soviet scientists consider Professor Zigel to be something of a showman. Yugoslav Astronomer Tatomir Anzelić, in a revealing comment about contemporary Eastern European life, says: "So many people are taking drugs, it's no wonder they are prepared to believe that the Martians are coming." The Poles, who have had an abundance of UFOs but a shortage of meat, are whimsical; they are saying that it is really too bad that the flying platters are as empty as those on earth.