Russians visit Suffolk

Published 10:21 pm Friday, July 6, 2012

Four Russian students and their interpreter are visiting Suffolk for three weeks and staying with host families from Main Street United Methodist Church. From left are Paul Kliukin, Roman Chernov, interpreter Nelli Dolzhikova, Anton Tyazhlov and Sophia Zerniukova.

A quartet of students from Russia is visiting Suffolk, and the students seem to be having the time of their lives.

The 13- and 14-year-olds are staying with three different host families, all of whom are members of Main Street United Methodist Church. The church has been involved since 2004 in the program, which is designed to help the students get some fresh air away from the Russian pollution and let them see part of America.

Since their arrival on June 28, the four — three boys and one girl — have visited Virginia Beach, Ocean Breeze Water Park and a Norfolk Tides game. They toured Sentara Obici Hospital and participated in the Riverview July 4 parade.

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There’s a lot more ground to cover before they leave on July 19. They will visit Busch Gardens, Doumar’s restaurant in Norfolk, Merchants Millpond State Park in North Carolina, and more. They also will spend three days in Washington, D.C., before leaving from Dulles airport to head home.

“This is a good way for them to see America and Americans,” said Peggy Hopewell, one of the coordinators of the trip along with Ellen Saunders. “It’s good for relations between the countries, plus it’s giving them clean air to breathe.”

This is the fifth time since 2004 that a group of Russian students has visited Suffolk. A few years were missed because of the economy, Hopewell said.

The students do fundraisers and pay out of pocket for their airfare. Activities while they’re here are covered by the church and host families.

“It’s a mission for our church, too,” Hopewell said.

After their tour of the hospital on Friday, the students ate lunch at the cafeteria and talked about what they have enjoyed most so far.

The consensus seemed to be Virginia Beach.

“I loved the ocean,” said Paul Kliukin. “It’s beautiful, especially at night.”

Anton Tyazhlov said he is “enjoying everything here,” particularly the water park.

Roman Chernov said he enjoyed airplane-flying lessons, the ocean and his test drive of a Chevrolet Corvette.

And Sophia Zerniukova said, “Most of all, I love the ocean.”

The students also raved about their host families.

“Our family is very nice,” Paul said. “It’s like second parents in America.”

Likewise, the host families said they enjoy having the students.

“It’s great,” said Suzanne Van Orden. “As a parent of two teenage girls, it’s equally as good an experience for us as it is for them.”

Van Orden said Sophia was able to give her daughters some perspective when she told them that cell phones in Russia cost thousands of dollars.

Alex Powell, who is keeping two of the boys, said they are very helpful.

“They know how to cook breakfast, and they want to help clean up and ask questions,” she said, adding that they love Dr. Pepper.

“It’s been a pleasant experience,” host parent Jim Decker added.