Russian Students Add to Portland Veterans’ Day Remembrance on City Hall Steps

Students and Chaperones from Archangle, Russia at Veterans’s Day Observance at City Hall

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,255)

Public officials gathered once again on the steps of City Hall late this morning to thank all veterans for their extraordinary service and sacrifices to this country during wartime. Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said that “…….peace is our first alternative.  We try to avoind conflict whenever we can…….but we do have a battle here in Portland.  We have too many veterans without housing, jobs and health care.  Join me in making sure we do everything we can to support our returning vets.”

Other speakers included U.S. Senator Susan Collins, (R),  who said her father was a World War II veteran, wounded twice at the Battle of the Bulge.  She said her father always took her to veterans’ observances where he hoisted her on his shoulders to watch the ceremny.  That was how she received her first appreciation for veterans.  City councilor Cheryl Leeman’s father served in two wars as well.  She delivered a message from out-going US Senator Olympia Snowe:  “It is my pleasure to pay my last tribute to you…you are our heroes.”  Laying of the wreaths occurred next followed by taps.

Fifteen Russian students and their three chaperones stood in the audience behind a banner listening intently as speaker after speaker praised our veterans.  The teenagers are from School # 6, in Archangel, in northwest Russia. That’s near the Artic Circle. Archangel is a city of 300,000 people. Education is very important to this city which has many colleges and universities. Students at School 6 study only language and especially English. Fishing, timber, and oil are vital industries to Archangel. The students are in Maine to study ecological sustainability.  Alexandra Pilipovich said  that  Mainers are very friendly.  Another student Anna Saraeva said:  “I feel that people in this country are more polite and more open.”  Sasha Meyster, said “Peole are friendlier here and more sociable.” The group is here for two weeks, having arrived in Portland on  Election Day.

South Portland was the site of a massive effort to build Liberty ships for World War II use.   Some of those ships left Portland Harbor to deliver war supplies to the Russians fighting the Germans.  “This is very real to these students’ grandparents.  They remember this effort,” said Neale Duffett, co-chair of the Sister City Program, along with city councilor Ed Suslovic.

“The whole region of Archangel is the size of France with a population of 300,000,” said Eugeny Meltsev, an English teacher at School # 6 and one of the trip chaperones.  In the past the students have had to finance their own trips here.  “For the first time, the city of Archangel paid their air fares – from Moscow to New York and to Portland and for the return trip.  It is important for our two cities, Portland and Archangel, to continue this relationship,” said Meltsev.  Next year the relationship will be 25 years old.  It was interrupted by the Cold War between the two nations.