Eleven-year-old Tony Aliengena, reaching a milestone in his "friendship flight" around the world, landed in Leningrad today where he was greeted by a group of schoolchildren who crowded around to give him flowers and welcome him to the "land of the Soviets."
"The flight was short and easy, and it's great to be here," the boy from San Juan Capistrano said as he stepped out of his Cessna 210 Centurion after the hour-and-40-minute flight from Helsinki, Finland.
Eleven-year-old Tanya Barabash gave Tony a brown loaf of bread and a cup of salt--the traditional Russian welcome--and then recited a poem in Russian that she had written herself.
"I want peace all over the world," her poem said in part. "If we die in war, the grown-ups will have to answer for it."
Leningrad is the 13th stop on Tony's 17,000-mile trip, which has been dubbed the friendship flight because of his plan to meet with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev next week and present the Soviet leader with a "friendship scroll" filled with the signatures of youngsters Tony has met during his trip.
Letters for Gorbachev
Tony has also collected letters from more than 50,000 American schoolchildren to give Gorbachev.
"Most of the letters were sent ahead by commercial flight, but I am carrying a bag with the letters written by my own classmates back home," Tony said.
The two dozen Soviet youngsters who gathered at the Leningrad airport regarded the American boy as something of a hero.
"I don't know much about him but I know he's famous and he likes fishing," said Kirill Yefimov, who just turned 16 this week. "I like fishing too, so I shall make friends with him."
Other children in the group handed Tony several dozen carnations.
"We welcome you to the city on the River Neva," one told him, referring to the river on which Leningrad was built. "We welcome you to the land of the Soviets."
Gennady P. Alferenko, chairman of the Soviet Foundation of Social Invention, which is sponsoring Tony's stay in the Soviet Union, said the visit, which also involves stops in Vilnius, the capital of the Baltic republic of Lithuania, Moscow and a number of smaller cities across to the Pacific Coast, will cost the equivalent of $70,000, all of which has been raised from private donations in the Soviet Union.
Alferenko said the American boy represented freedom to Soviet children.
"He is teaching our youngsters that the entire planet is our home," Alferenko said. "They see Tony and think, 'Why should I spend my whole life in a Siberian village? I should see the world too.' "