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Soviet Youths in Southland Bridge Cultural Gap : Beatles' Tune Intones a Peace Message

December 22, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

The conversation was not going well when the first notes of the Beatles' song filled the car.

Oceans of cultural differences, not least among them language, had gotten in the way of any meaningful dialogue with the 15-year-old Soviet girl on the drive through Huntington Beach Monday morning. But when Paul McCartney started singing "Can't Buy Me Love," the visitor began humming along. The ice had cracked.

"I love the Beatles," Sasha Krapukhina blurted out, her English a bit rough around the edges after only three months of practice. "They are my favorites! "

Before the day ended Krapukhina covered many of her favorites, from clothing to literature. The Moscow music student also made it clear that she and 14 other Soviet teen-agers who arrived in Orange County Sunday night for a weeklong stay to promote world peace are troubled by the specter of nuclear war.

"The threat of war must be abolished," she said. "I want to sleep happily, not in fear."

The Soviet youths, ages 13 to 17, are here as part of the "Bridge of Peace" program sponsored by Peggy Bassett, minister of the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach.

"We are opening our hearts to one another . . . I don't think we have time to wait for the heads of government, we have to do it ourselves," Bassett said. "Children could teach our politicians how to live in peace and friendship." The trip is co-sponsored by the church, and Youth Ambassadors of America, a group that sponsors student-exchange visits.

The Soviet students have been paired with Orange County teen-agers and the entire group is staying at an undisclosed youth camp in the county. On Christmas Eve the Soviets will move into the homes of their hosts to celebrate the holiday. Before the trip ends Sunday, the group will visit the Crystal Cathedral to see a performance of the "The Glory of Christmas," as well as tour the Queen Mary and spend a day at Disneyland.

The Soviet youths, three boys and 12 girls, were chosen because they won an essay contest on the topic of peace.

A bit weary after a 27-hour flight, the Soviet youths were eager to sample Southern California.

Asked if she wanted a look at a shopping mall, Krapukhina, the daughter of a Moscow computer company executive, agreed. Krapukhina was wide-eyed when she first surveyed the Westminster Mall.

'Where do we start?" she asked her two U.S. companions, Arielle Lawson, 15, of Santa Ana, and Amie Greenfield, 16, of Huntington Beach.

Within moments, the three had disappeared down the escalator and into a trendy women's clothing store. They drifted from rack to rack, chattering about colors and sizes. Lawson then coaxed Krapukhina to slip on a $140 denim jacket with leather trim.

Lunch was pizza and Pepsi. Lawson and Greenfield ordered the diet brand. Krapukhina wanted "the real stuff."

Like most of the visiting Soviets, Krapukhina comes from a middle or upper-class family. This is her first trip outside the U.S.S.R., but she has been exposed to many Western notions and creations.

Looks to Music Career

One of her favorite authors is Ken Kesey, who wrote the book that became her favorite movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." A violinist, she has studied at a Moscow music academy for seven years and hopes for a career in music. The young girls' feelings about peace were evident when later they strolled on the sunny beach barefoot.

Lawson, a junior at Estancia High School in Santa Ana, is going to Moscow in March for a world youth peace conference. Her younger sister went to camp in the Soviet Union this summer, and her mother is one of organizers of Krapukhnia's visit.

Lawson said many of her friends are "fearful of the Soviets . . . that they want us all dead. It's just not true and this kind of exchange proves that."

To underscore her point, Lawson wrote "I Want Peace" in the sand with her toes. Krapukhina clapped and added another word to the phrase in Russian.

What did it mean? She replied: "Summer. I want summer because Moscow is so cold. I want it to be like this all the time."

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