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Speaking Her Peace : Soviet Schoolgirl Katerina Lycheva Finds Children Are the Same All Over

Times Staff Writer

In a day of speeches, interviews, city proclamations and gift exchanges, a tired but ever-smiling Katerina Lycheva was barely able to squeeze in 15 minutes for what she really wanted to do while in Los Angeles--sit down and talk with American kids about peace.

But even that ended up to be a formal affair, with a small group of children from Commonwealth Elementary School sitting stiffly across from the 11-year-old Soviet schoolgirl, asking questions like “What have you learned about Americans?” while her mother, interpreter, sponsors, teachers, public relations people and the press hovered over them. Katerina, wearing a calf-length blue calico dress and black patent leather shoes, had been asked that same question at an earlier photo session. “I’ve answered that a million times,” she retorted.

This time, however, she fell back on the response she had given at a breakfast.

“We play the same games and call them differently . . . I found kids are basically the same everywhere,” she said, smiling.

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Los Angeles is the fifth and final stop of a five-city American tour that began in Chicago March 20. The visit, sponsored by a nonprofit San Francisco-based group, Children as the Peacemakers, commemorated a similar trip by Samantha Smith, a Maine schoolgirl who toured the Soviet Union in 1983 at the invitation of the late Soviet President Yuri Andropov. Samantha died last year in a plane crash.

Katerina, who has been in several Soviet peace documentary movies and plays, was chosen for the trip by the Club of International Friendship, a Moscow organization. Her mother is a Moscow scientific research worker, and her father, a commercial advertising specialist.

The Soviet girl seemed to enjoy her job as peace emissary, often breaking into an excited blend of English, Russian, and giggles. Her two-day visit to Southern California, which will end today includes a trip to Disneyland, a tour of Universal Studios, Commonwealth Avenue Elementary School and dinner with a Glendale family.

On Monday, Katerina dined on oatmeal and buckwheat crepes at a breakfast in her honor at the Hyatt Regency. She was given a beach bag, sunglasses, swimsuit, a beach ball and a California orange. She was serenaded by the International Children’s Choir and received citations from Mayor Tom Bradley’s office. She was given a cocker spaniel puppy by Pat Montandon, founder of Children as Peacemakers.

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Later at the school she ate pizza, and received a school T-shirt and commemorative buttons for all her fifth-grade classmates at Moscow’s English Speaking School No. 4. She has received so many gifts in this country that her sponsors had to buy five extra suitcases for her.

In turn, Katerina played the piano, performed a Russian dance, gave out posters drawn by Soviet children and autographed Russian post cards. She also handed out paper peace doves bearing the addresses of Soviet children for a pen pal exchange.

‘Mir'--Peace in Russian

Throughout the day, she spoke on the same theme--peace-- or “mir"-- as she phrased it in her native language. While she seemed to have a good command of English, she most often talked in her native tongue, repeatedly motioning her interpreter to her side to translate her message.

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“I think it (peace) can be achieved through friendship, then no one is afraid of each other and there is no need to make weapons,” she said on one occasion.

And at another stop, “Children everywhere need peace and children should be concerned about what happens next.” And Katerina, as outspoken as she was animated, didn’t mince words when comparing the United States and Soviet Union.

She said that while she preferred Russian food, she had enjoyed french fries, pizza and tacos on her trip. But, she said, “those aren’t American.”

Katerina also said that she would not like to live in America, and added, that “so far I haven’t seen a single thing that my friends don’t have.”

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Disneyland on the Schedule

She was matter-of-fact about today’s planned trip to Disneyland. Asked if she had requested to go there, she said, “No, it’s on my schedule, so I am going there.”

Katerina, who says she wants to be a film director, said that she watched “Rocky IV” on television in her hotel room.

“It was horrible,” she said of the popular box office hit in which Sylvester Stallone portrays an all-American boxer who defeats a hulking Soviet opponent.

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“I was even frightened of it. It was not a word true. Even the faces of the Soviet people were not true. They have friendly open faces. I did not know such distortions were possible.”


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