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Coming to America--the Sequel : Art: A Moscow businessman whose dreams ended in a nightmare on his first trip to Ventura County, returns to organize an exhibition.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vladimir Mitrohim’s dreams of coming to America turned into a nightmare the first time he set foot in Ventura County.

The Soviet businessman flew in from Moscow last July with five other Russians expecting to do a little conservation work with the Camarillo branch of the California Conservation Corps.

Instead, he found himself clearing brush from the hills outside Thousand Oaks and making mud bricks in the broiling sun. After five days, he quit the corps and headed home.

Despite his initial disillusionment, Mitrohim didn’t give up. He returned to Camarillo early last week. And the second time around, he has found life here a lot more to his liking.

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Mitrohim, an art collector and entrepreneur in Moscow, returned to Ventura County to organize an exhibition of his personal art collection and try to establish business contacts.

In an interview, he made it clear that he much prefers the art world to the hard labor he ended up doing last summer.

“I had to work from morning till late evening five or six days a week,” Mitrohim recalled. “There just wasn’t enough time for me to conduct my business plans.”

Mitrohim’s return to the county was facilitated by a group called International Counselors Inc., a 6-month-old local nonprofit corporation that functions as an intermediary for Russians who want to conduct business in the United States.

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Cindy Cook, executive director of the group, said she learned of Mitrohim’s art interests because of stories about the problems he encountered on his first trip to the county.

With Cook’s help, the 34-year-old Russian entrepreneur exhibited part of his art collection last weekend.

“I was impressed with the incredible art,” she said. “It takes your breath away.”

The exhibition, at the Michael Kizhner gallery in Los Angeles, featured etchings, watercolors, oils, lacquer boxes and lacquer eggs depicting ancient Russian icons.

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Back home, Mitrohim also published pre-Russian Revolution books that were out of print. He hopes to find publishing contacts to distribute them in the United States.

Mitrohim was able to take his art collection out of Russia because of an easing of Soviet export restrictions in recent years. There was a brief time during the recent Soviet coup attempt when restrictions tightened again, but Soviet officials say Russians are again free to ship goods to foreign countries.

Cook said she has been impressed with Mitrohim’s tenacious efforts to set himself up in business in the United States.

Stating that any Soviet business person with a foreign contact or bank account was subject to arrest at the onset of the past coup, Cook said Mitrohim reacted by simply shipping his personal art collection to the United States and taking his chances.

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“I watched him take risks and chances to become everything he could be,” she said. “I have an extraordinary amount of respect for him. He’s not afraid of challenge.”

For his part, Mitrohim said he is enjoying his latest stint in Ventura County. While he plans to return to Moscow after Christmas, he said he will come back early next year and plans other trips with three business partners.

“All my life I’ve wanted to see America,” he said.


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