From Russia With Love : Here for the Holidays, Moscow Student Yana Chernuhka, 15, Shares a Week-Long Diary

Yana Chernuhka, 15, of Moscow, was one of 15 teen-agers from the Soviet Union to spend Christmas week in Orange County through the arrangements of the International Youth Ambassadors and the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach.

High Life asked Yana to keep a diary of her experiences here. The following are excerpts from Yana's week-long diary:

Monday, Dec. 21: When we arrived in Los Angeles (at midnight) we were met beautifully with many flowers and smiles and joy. We then met our old friends from the camp (Soviet summer camp where U.S. teen-agers stayed last summer) and many other Americans. And there were many cameras and we were interviewed. And we said it was beautiful and even our long flight couldn't make it less beautiful than it was.

Then we drove through Los Angeles in the evening. I noticed many lights and advertisements, and all the buildings of the companies had many stories.

Soon we arrived at the Rancho Capistrano (a youth camp in San Juan Capistrano). There we had a beautiful greeting. The (U.S.) children ran to us with cries of joy and happiness, they were so happy to see us. And then we came into a room with candles and a Christmas tree and we had greetings then. We then lighted the candles and sang songs together. The songs were a great part of our communication. It helped us to understand each other . . . and it made us closer to each other.

In the morning we looked at the surroundings of Rancho Capistrano. It was very beautiful--swimming pools, birds, beautiful. But most of all we liked the atmosphere of our camp. It was filled with love and friendship. We didn't feel ourselves in America, we feel ourselves in the camp. Like that camp which was near Moscow.

Then we went to the press conference in the church. There were TV (cameras) and journalists there. We sang the song we had sung before ("We Are the World") and then some important persons said some speeches and then we introduced ourselves and said some words to the Americans. I was very surprised how greatly they listened to us, to all our words.

After this, the journalists took us and went with us around the city. First we went to the bank, then to a small island, then to the ocean. Every time she (journalist) wants us to go into a shop. She said it would be very interesting for us. But we knew you can buy everything in American shops, and so we were not surprised. Americans are proud of their shops, of their houses, their cars, their lives. And they (journalists) often ask us, "Is this the same as in the U.S.S.R.?" They already know that it is not so. It seems to me that shops for Americans is one of the greater parts of life. Maybe the main part.

In the street some Americans came up to us. They learned that we are from the U.S.S.R. according to our shirts (which read, "From Russia With Love") and they asked some questions. One teacher proposed to me to exchange letters, and one boy offered me his suit in order I can bathe in the ocean with it. It was so funny.

Then we attended a cafe where we tasted hamburgers and something else. The young girl who served us was very excited that we are from the U.S.S.R. And all the time the reporter asked us questions, simple questions about our families, our cities, and then about Afghanistan and the policy of our government . . . And many Americans often ask us if we want to live in the U.S.A. I answer no because we love our motherland. It means that we have to do our life better in the U.S.S.R. but not to change our motherland.

In the evening of our first day there was a great reception in the church in our honor. We were so tired and sleepy, but when we came in the hall there was music and all people stood and applauded us and so we became excited.

Afterward, almost every American came up to us and said, "I'm so happy that you here in the United States. You are welcome." They give us some gifts, cards with their names, hugged us, kissed us . . . oh, so many Americans. It was such a warm reception.

And the reception was so long and we were simply tired of repeating, "Thank you very much, thank you, thank you."

I was mostly surprised in America, not with its technology, but with its hot, hot reception of Americans.

Tuesday, Dec. 22: The next morning we stayed in the camp. It was a free morning and you could do what you wanted. For example, play volleyball or paint something. . . . A group of American students with their teacher came to our camp. They wanted to make friends with one of Moscow's schools. We arranged to send letters. It was so nice that the Americans said, "I get to exchange letters with Soviet children." They are eager to learn more information about the Soviet Union. It was nice.

In the evening we attended Crystal Cathedral. I noticed that churches in America are unusual compared to our country because they are modern buildings, made of glass. In Russia, all the churches have traditional forms. They are small and cramped.

Then we attended the Christmas performance ("Glory of Christmas"). There were many costumes, techniques, many words, but there was no play, for my part. It was grand, very grand, but it didn't cause any feelings in me. Most of all I liked the music, it was very beautiful.

Afterward we went shopping to the big center (South Coast Plaza). There were many persons with cameras to see us and journalists. We were very excited with their gifts and there were many Russian words between us, but we didn't jump because of joy.

Then we went to the jeans store. They said that we would be happy to get jeans. There were many cameras and so on, but we were quiet and we weren't speaking. We were not excited with the jeans. By the way, there were none our size, only one size, very small.

It was a silly situation.

Then they brought jackets. In comparison with good knitting, it was unpleasant. We did not like it, and we said so, and we understood that something bad would appear in the press about our shopping. Journalists want to say that we are crazy about their shops, so they write it.

I think journalists have such stereotype of Russian people in the shops and they follow it. But, basically, Americans are very like the Soviet people.

Wednesday, Dec. 23: Today we visited the greatest ship, the biggest ship in the world, Queen Mary. It's really a very great ship and I liked it. The captain told us that he was happy to see us.

There we saw the ship and afterward we went to the museum, which is situated nearby. Then we saw the biggest airplane made of wood (Spruce Goose), which flied the only one time.

Thursday, Dec. 24: The next morning it was raining. We organized three groups (at camp). One worked on the project on our future camp in Moscow. The other group thought about the (peace) declaration and the third group about how to continue our dialogue.

I worked on the group which thought about the declaration. We, everybody, wrote about his proposal, what he would like to see in the world between our countries. We wrote an introductory part and then included all or most of the proposals. The declaration was really from the heart. The declaration is an ideal for the future. But when the people know of the ideal, they will try to reach it.

Then the last hour comes to the camp. The candles were lit and everybody did everything that he could at the concert (talent show).

After the concert I went to Janice's (one of her U.S. friends) house to spend Christmas with her family.

Friday, Dec. 25: I liked the (Swavely) family very much, especially the children. I liked the relations between parents and children. In comparison with my family, they are more quiet maybe.

Christmas was a wondrous celebration because it's like New Year's in our country. New Year's in our country is the most merriest, the most gay, the most happy holiday in the year. It's like a common birthday. We usually invite many guests, cook many delicious meals, and dance, sing, talk, communicate . . . I like this holiday very much.

I soon understood that the celebration of Christmas in this country consisted of getting and giving gifts.

From my point of view, gifts were given in a strange way. For example, nobody sits in that room. Then somebody will say, "Maybe you want to get a gift, take it."

Then you take the gift, unwrap it. "Oh, it's beautiful and wonderful, thank you." Then it's your turn. "Maybe now you want to get gift?"

And the other person said, "Oh, thank you, it's beautiful and wonderful," and so on.

We gave and got gifts for about three hours. In my country we did it in one moment.

Then we went to their grandmother's house. I like that Christmas is a family holiday. That children are there, parents there and grandparents. Grandmother gave presents to everybody, and I was surprised that I was given presents as a member of the family. But I felt most comfortable with the children because we were like friends. With grandparents, adults, I felt like a representative of a country. That I had to prove something. It was more simple and more comfortable for me to communicate with the children.

Saturday, Dec. 26: The next day we spent at Disneyland. I expected very much and it was wonderful. Disneyland is the whole world, and we spent the whole day, but we didn't manage to see all the spots. We were very excited.

In the morning and the middle of the day, it's very crowded at Disneyland. And so you have to stand in a line for a long time. But in the evening, I liked Disneyland very much. Although I was tired, I liked this part of the day most of all. We attended many attractions and Disneyland was very beautiful . . . colored lights.

Sunday, Dec. 27: The next day was the day of parting. In the morning we took part in the three services in the church. We told about our camp, about how we liked staying in America. We read our (peace) declaration and it was met with great enthusiasm. And it was like the previous times, Americans listened to us with great passion. I was very glad.

And then came the very sad part of the day because we had to say goodby to our friends. And almost everybody cried because it was impossible not to cry.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°