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Soviet Teens Begin US Visit in Samantha Smith’s Memory

August 21, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group of Soviet teen-agers visited a suburban shopping mall and a video game store on the first day of their goodwill trip to the United States.

The youngsters began their first full day in the United States on Thursday, eager to sample cheeseburgers and rock music and to promote world peace in the spirit of Samantha Smith, the Maine girl who made a much publicized visit to the Soviet Union in 1983.

″Children are the best ambassadors of peace,″ said group leader Zinaida Dragunkina, one of four Soviet chaperones for the visit sponsored by the non- profit Samantha Smith Foundation.

Thursday’s schedule also included visits to the National Air and Space Museum and a YMCA camp in Annapolis, Md., where the Soviet youngsters were treated to American watersports on inflatable rafts pulled by a ski-boat.

″We have water skis in Russia, but nothing like that,″ said Kirril Kryoushevkov, a 15-year-old on his first visit to the U.S. ″It was excellent.″

The visitors from Leningrad, all aged 15 and 16, locked arms with a group of young American hosts and sang ″We Shall Overcome″ at a post-breakfast news conference before touring Washington and visiting the camp.

Samantha was a fifth-grader in rural Manchester, Maine, who became an international celebrity after she wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in December 1982 asking why he wanted to ″conquer the world, or at least our country.″

Andropov replied the following April in a three-page letter pledging that his country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. At his invitation, Samantha and her parents visited the Soviet Union in the summer of 1983.

Samantha was 13 when she and her father were killed in a plane crash in Maine in August 1985. The foundation bearing her name was established later that year to foster international understanding and cooperation, and 20 of Samantha’s former classmates visited the Soviet Union last summer.

The Soviet teen-agers arrived in Washington late Wednesday for their 11-day visit to Washington, Boston and Maine. Their trip completes the first round of several exchange visits being planned for Soviet and American youngsters, said Jane G. Smith, the foundation president and Samantha’s mother.

They were to leave today for Boston, where they will attend a Red Sox baseball game, and will spend much of next week at Alford Lake Camp in Maine. There they will be reunited with some of Samantha’s former classmates who had visited Camp Artek, a Soviet youth camp on the Black Sea, last summer.

Tatyana Nikitina, 16, who met Samantha at Camp Artek four years ago, recalled that ″we did a lot of singing and dancing together″ and that Samantha was memorable for ″her openness, her frankness and being relaxed and very natural.″

″The most important thing is that Samantha gave kids of the world hope that we can all meet together and communicate,″ Tatyana said. ″We hope our visit will also contribute to the cause of peace and mutual understanding.″

Mrs. Dragunkina, who represented the Soviet Committee on Youth Organizations, said that ″if our visit will be a very little step toward improving relations between our two countries, we will be very happy.″

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