US/ICOMOS US-Russia Volunteer Initiative

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US/ICOMOS brought together ten young American and Russian volunteers for historical and cultural preservation projects, each of whom traveled to the counterpart country to work with host organizations that incorporate volunteer activities in their preservation programs.

The principal objectives of this program were to foster volunteerism in the U.S. and Russia by focusing on collaborations in historical and cultural heritage preservation activities; to develop substantive and sustainable linkages between U.S. and Russian non-governmental organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and volunteer groups that focus on historical and cultural heritage preservation; to promote understanding of the different American and Russian approaches to historical and cultural heritage preservation by focusing on preservation problems common to both countries; and to develop this approach as a model that can be applied in other countries.

The preservation program was coordinated with exchanges involving two other themes, HIV/Aids awareness and information technology, being conducted by IREX, the International Research & Exchanges Board of Washington, DC.

In September 2004, Donald Jones, US/ICOMOS Director of Programs, traveled to Moscow to meet with representatives of various agencies and organizations to set up the exchanges.  In Moscow, Dr. Jones met with Oleg Rozhnov (Director) and Dina Kisselyeva (Chief of International Operations) of the Russian Union of Youth, the primary Russian partner organization for this exchange program; Tobias Bradford (Public Diplomacy Officer) and James Kenney (Attaché for Cultural Affairs) of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; and Chris Cavanaugh, Moscow program officer for IREX, the International Research and Exchange Board.

U.S. and Russian Volunteers

From applications received through a public call for volunteers, both the Russian and U.S. teams were selected on the basis of their past volunteer experience in preservation, to provide for geographic diversity from both countries, and to provide linkages between the host organizations selected for this project.

The Russian volunteers were:

Evgeny Aksenov, Yaroslavl Oblast
Ekaterina (Katya) Borissova, Chita
Olka Polstyankina, Orel
Mayya Semina, Ryazan
Anastasia Zinyuk, Irkutsk

The U.S. volunteers were:

Jon Buono, Atlanta, Georgia
Kathryn Emmitt, Newport, Rhode Island
Christina Olson, Atlanta, Georgia
Natalie Perrin, Athens, Georgia
Michael Tornabene, Eugene, Oregon

All of the U.S. and Russian volunteers not only enjoyed a tremendous experience in cultural preservation, but are to be commended for contributing greatly to the overall success of this program.

The US participants, accompanied by Dr. Jones, met their Russian counterparts in Moscow in early November for orientation, staying at the historic Hotel Budapest located near Red Square in Moscow’s historic center.  The first evening, the U.S. and Russian volunteers attended a reception at the Spaso House, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in the Old Arbat section of Moscow.  The reception was hosted Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, and was attended by several U.S. Embassy diplomats, Russian government representatives, and all 50 U.S. and Russian volunteer participants from all three themes (preservation, HIV/Aids, and information technology).  Other attendees included Mr. Rozhnov and Ms. Kisselyeva (Russian Union of Youth), Arcadi Nebolsine (Russian Monuments Fund and consultant to US/ICOMOS), Svetlana Melnikova (President, Russian Village Churches), Natalia Pozhedayeva (President, Russian National Trust), Irina Aksenova (President, Trans-Volga Institute and specialist in Tver preservation), and Father Leonid Kalinin (sculptor/architect, Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow).  Following the reception, the Russian preservation volunteers introduced the U.S. volunteers to the Moscow subway system.

The following day, the U.S. and Russian volunteers met for orientation with the staff of IREX, who graciously allowed the US/ICOMOS preservation volunteers to attend orientation with the volunteers from the HIV/Aids and information technology themes.  The IREX orientation included discussions about living in the United States (for the Russians) and living in Russia (for the Americans) as well as program requirements and medical insurance and treatment options.  All the volunteers enjoyed a buffet lunch together, then the US/ICOMOS preservation team left for a series of cultural tours and other program activities.

Most of the cultural programs and tours were arranged by Mr. Nebolsine, who graciously called upon his Russian friends and colleagues to provide the US-Russia volunteers with unparalleled experiences in Moscow.  The program included a welcoming dinner at the home of Father Leonid and a visit to the Spaso-Andronikov Monastery with a tour of the galleries of icons.  One of the highlights of the monastery visit was a tour of the 15th-century Cathedral of the Savior, one of the oldest churches in Moscow.  During the tour led by Father Leonid, he turned off all electric lights to allow the team to experience the beautiful interior of the cathedral lit only by natural light streaming in through the small, narrow windows.

Mr. Nebolsine also arranged for a tour of the reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, led by Father Leonid’s nephew.  The original, 19th-century cathedral was destroyed in 1931 under Stalin’s orders, but in the mid-1990s Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow organized a program to rebuild the structure based on the original plans.  Following a tour of the exhibits in the underground floor and then the enormous sanctuary, the team was lead up to the bell tower domes, which provided a spectacular nighttime view of the historic centre of Moscow.

Later, the team attended a reception at a nearby private art gallery in Moscow, featuring a visit by famed Russian artist Ilya Glazunov, who graciously signed prints purchased by the volunteer participants at the private gallery’s gift shop.

The U.S. and Russian volunteers also spent time at the Russian Union of Youth headquarters (in the Kitai-Gorod section of  Moscow) where they learned about each others’ backgrounds, hometowns, and experiences in preservation.  Led by Ms. Kisselyeva, a large world map was used as the basis for the volunteers to discuss where they were from, their interests and experiences in preservation, and what they expected to gain from and contribute to the US-Russia volunteer exchange in cultural preservation.  The volunteers then divided into US/Russian pairs to gain more personal insights into the backgrounds, goals, and aspirations of each volunteer.

While the world map dramatically illustrated the vast geographic divide between, for example, Michael Tornabene’s home in Eugene, Oregon in the U.S. and Anastasia Zinyuk’s home in Irkutsk, Russia, the individual volunteers also learned how closely their backgrounds, interests, and experiences paralleled each other in many cases.  Of course, the volunteers found differences between them equally compelling and greatly enjoyed sharing many stories and laughs together about their lives.

These discussions also helped prepare the volunteers for the experiences they were about to encounter.  For example, Kathryn Emmitt, a student at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island and former intern with the Newport Planning Commission, provided Mayya Semina and Anastasia Zinyuk, who were heading to Newport for their volunteer exchange, with useful information on both preservation activities and life in Newport.  Similarly, Christina Olson, a former intern with the Jekyll Island Museum, provided similar information to the other three Russian volunteers who were headed to that location.

Evgeny Aksenov, of Yaroslavl, gave the U.S. volunteers helpful hints on various aspects of living and working in that historic town.  And while in Moscow, all the Russian volunteers assisted the Americans with the language, the food, and the culture, while the Americans attempted to prepare and excite the Russian volunteers for the experiences that were to come in the United States.

The orientation program was successful in meeting its two primary goals.  First, all volunteers learned about the program’s goals, both in preservation and as a cultural exchange, and received useful information about the countries and individual cities the volunteers were about to be immersed in through this exchange program.  Secondly, all the U.S. and Russian volunteers formed strong personal bonds with each other and the program directors, helping to ensure that any problems that might be encountered could be dealt with in a professional manner with dose of humor.

This second point was illustrated the last night of orientation, as all of the U.S. and Russian volunteers met in one of their hotel rooms for an impromptu “going-away” party.  The following day, the Russians left for the United States and the Americans left for Yaroslavl, Russia for their one-month exchange.

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