PEORIA - Five young Russians from Siberia with leadership potential are on a taxfunded trip that might get a laugh on late night TV - they're spending 10 days in Peoria.
They arrived direct from their home in Siberia, with no stop-overs, not even In Chicago. They're leaving on Friday. The group dropped by the Journal Star on Wednesday for a briefing on U.S. journalism. They've been to the Peoria City Council, where they were made honorary citizens, as well as Caterpillar Inc., the Salvation Army, Parc, Methodist Medical Center, Proctor Home and other organizations. Their favorite place, so far? The East Peoria Wal-Mart, where they had a terrific time shopping, said the Rev. John Throop, vicar of Christ Church Limestone in Hanna City, their voluntary coordinator. The group includes:
- Marina Alexeenko, 23, a business consultant and translator.
- Vadim Chutchev, 24, the leader of a student trades union, a member of the Barnavl, Siberia, City Council and a candidate for the Russian Duma.
- Kirill Samoshonkov, 21, a college student studying journalism and editor of a regional youth newspaper.
- Igor Astapov, 27, who has an engineering degree in coal mining but is an entertainment promoter.
- Vitaly Salamatin, 22, a graduate Ph.D. student in economics who has a degree in engineering economics and heads a not-for-profit student organization.
They were schoolchildren when the Soviet Union fell apart. Now they're considered Russian leaders of the future, and were chosen for the trip, which Is funded by Congress through the Library of Congress, Throop said. Each participant is allocated $3,000 and that includes transportation, he said.
The bare-bones budget means they're staying with Peoria-area families or organizations and mainly eating home cooking, Throop said.
They haven't been to Big Al's, and it's not on the itinerary. But that hasn't slowed the group down. After one home dinner, everybody started dancing, he said.
Through their translator, they told of their impressions of the United States and Peoria. They don't like hamburgers and trench fries. "They're surprised that Americans eat that stuff. Why eat meat with buns?" asked Alexeenko. And the breakfasts have baffled them, she said. "Russian men don't eat cereal. If a wife put out cereal with breakfast for a long American day, they'd divorce her," she said. What do they like? "Meat. pork," she said.
Told that some Americans worry about health effects from a heavy meat diet, she responded that those folks don't live in Siberia! When someone treated them to dinner out at a buffet restaurant, the group was in for another surprise, Throop said. "They couldn't believe all that food, all you could eat," he said, and worried that the restaurant owner would go bankrupt.
Chutchev, the young politician and City Council member, said that Peoria is small compared with his home city of Barnaul, population 900,000, but the Peoria infrastructure is better developed.
In Russia. 90 percent of the time city officials discuss the government-owned utilities, which are continually breaking down, he said.
The group declined to predict what will happen in Russia a decade from now. "We can't forecast the next day," said one. Still, they retain the optimism of youth. "We know the candidates" for public office. "Young people will go for it," said Chutchev.