If Virginia Shibonis were still living in Lithuania - in what Mikhail Gorbachev considers part of the Soviet Union - she would have boycotted Sunday's referendum.

To do otherwise would have implied that Lithuania is not already an independent nation, she explained. "It's not our business," she said of the vote. "It's their internal affairs."Another Lithuanian emigre, Arminos Gudenavichyus, would have abstained as well, even though he fears the boycott by the six independence-minded republics may give Gorbachev the "yes" vote he needs to impose central rule by force.

"He (Gorbachev) is using the referendum just to get more power for the future," Gudenavichyus said. "He wants to get a policy to use more the military."

Tigranui Agalaryan also questions the vote's relevance and Gorbachev's motives, saying that the people of each republic must decide their own fates without outside interference.

Her native Armenia will hold its own referendum later this year, and she said that vote, not Sunday's, will be the one that counts.

While recognizing the possible repercussions of Sunday's referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union, Shibonis, Gudenavichyus, Agalaryan and other emigres living in Utah rejected it as a political and propaganda ploy.

Shibonis, who emigrated from Lithuania two years ago, said most of the 60 Lithuanian emigres in Utah supported their homeland's boycott of the referendum. "If Lithuania participates, they would see themselves as part of the Soviet Union."

Because of Lithuania's prior vote for independence, what happens in the Soviet Union, including Sunday's vote, "is none of our business," Shibonis said. "It's their internal affairs."

Agalaryan, an outspoken Soviet dissident who came to the United States a year ago, said it is clear even without a referendum that the people of the Soviet Union "don't want to live as before, to have a dictator." The six republics that have taken the lead in the independence movement are responding to the wishes of the people, she said.

Like Gudenavichyus, Agalaryan believes that Gorbachev may attempt to use the referendum to justify the use of force. But she thinks the democratic movement has come too far to be turned back. "The forces are different. Now there are too many directions and political (groups). It is not possible."

Still, she believes the Soviet Union is approaching a dangerous crossroads. And she hopes that the United States and European nations will offer some protection to those republics that choose independence.

In Kharabakh, Armenia, the Soviet army continues to apply military pressure, Agalaryan said. "Innocent people are killed every day."

Gudenavichyus, who left Lithuania 18 months ago, does not rule out the possibility of civil war in the Soviet Union. That prospect is not altogether bad, he adds, because democracy is sure to prevail.

The Soviet emigres said they are baffled by the West's perception of Gorbachev as a progressive reformer. He didn't voluntarily relinquish domination of Eastern Europe, they argue, the people of Eastern Europe rejected communism.

Shibonis said, "As I see it, the people demanded it. Gorbachev had no choice. People are the ones that make changes."

Gudenavichyus said those who favor democratic reform prefer Boris Yeltsin to Gorbachev. Gorbachev's policies promise little or no change, he said. "He is just trying to rebuild the Communist party and keep things the same."

Agalaryan said, "I don't consider Gorbachev will be the future." If so, the Soviet Union under new leadership will be drastically different. "Yes, it is a very big moment for Union Soviet."