Russian festival brings cultures together

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter


photoThe Russian-American cultural festival Soberiha will celebrate with musical performances and activities on Saturday in Esther Short Park in Vancouver.


If you go

What: Soberiha, a Russian-American international cultural festival. Highlights include Russian and Eastern European dancing, music, food, entertainment.

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Esther Short Park, West Eighth and Columbia streets, Vancouver.

Cost: Free. Visitors are encouraged to bring donations for local shelters.

Information: AM-RU International Association or call 360-980-6698

Common Russian expressions:

Privyet (preev-yet): Hi.

Zdravstvooytye (zdra-svoo-tya): Hello.

Do svidaniya (dos-vee-dan-ya): Goodbye.

Droozba (drooz-ba): Friendship.

Horosho (horro-show): Good.

Pozhalooysta (poo-jah-list-ah): Please.

Spasiba (spa-see-ba): Thank you.

Zdorovo (zdo-row-vo): Cool, great, awesome.

There were no Russian cultural festivals in Vancouver when Valery Chkalov and his crew landed here after the first transpolar flight 75 years ago.

At the time, the notion probably wasn't high on people's minds, considering the plane was heading for San Francisco when mechanical problems caused it to land here instead.

But the historic flight became a catalyst for friendship between the people of Eastern Europe and Southwest Washington and led to the founding of the first such Vancouver festival in 2006, said Tina Esch, president of the American-Russian International Association.

"Chkalov, he's an international hero," Esch said. "And his flight, we'd like it to develop friendship and understanding of each other between Russian and American and all international cultures."

Esch, a Russian journalist who moved from Moscow to Vancouver in 2004 to marry her husband, Tony, decided to found the association and the festival, called Soberiha, after noticing that there wasn't much communication between the region's growing Eastern European population and its English-speaking neighbors.

Considering there are about 150,000 people from Eastern European countries who live in the region around Southwest Washington and Portland, including at least 20,000 in Clark County, the need for communication is only growing, she said.

"The main word is international -- we have Ukrainian, Armenian, American, Jewish, Russian, all kinds of people," Esch said. "The goal of this is to bring people together."

Because Chkalov's achievements are so widely admired, she decided this year's festival in Esther Short Park should focus on his memorable flight over the North Pole from June 18-20, 1937.

And as part of the celebration, two great grandsons of Georgiy Baidukov, one of Chkalov's crew members, have come from Russia to Vancouver to visit the community and pay tribute to their great grandfather's memory.

The pair, Seva Kornilov, 21, and Vladimir Kornilov, 15, will be honored guests at Soberiha this year, Esch said.

Members of the Russian Consulate in Seattle are also expected to attend, she added.

In 1937, Chkalov said in a radio address from Vancouver that in the same way that the waters of both the Columbia River and the Volga River in Russia flow peacefully into the same ocean so "… the peoples of Russia and the USA should live peacefully on this same planet and with cooperative work beautify this ocean of human life."

"That's what we want to help do with this festival," Esch said of the quote.

As part of the festivities, visitors are encouraged to dress up in outfits from the 1930s, when the flight occurred, to the 1970s, when Chkalov Drive in east Vancouver was dedicated to the pilot and his achievements, Esch said.

"We invite the public to come in such clothes," Esch said. "And we'll have a contest for the best outfit. They will all go on stage and the public, with the loudest applause, will choose the winner."

Organizers expect at least 6,000 people will turn up over the course of the day Saturday.

"In 2011, we had 6,000, but this year it could be a lot more with the Chkalov anniversary," Esch said.

Soberiha will also have lots of live music, dancing, a kids zone, vendors and booths with resources for Russians and other Eastern Europeans who live in the community.

There will also be translators on hand to help English speakers and Russian speakers communicate with one another, she said.

"Soberiha, it's the name of an August festival in Russia," Esch said. "It's the time when we pick berries, mushrooms, vegetables, fruits and share with each other. A harvest holiday. It means 'we gather together' and our goal, we would like to show local talent and acquaint local businesses to the public."

Visitors can also try a variety of Russian and Eastern European foods, which will be available at the festival from Leyla's Bakery, 13217 N.E. 61st Circle.

"We will have samsa, that has meat inside, the bread is like a triangle," said Larisa Khalidova, one of the bakery's owners. "There's meat and onion inside, it's a little bit spicy."

The bakery will also serve plov, which is a rice and meat dish; piroshki, which is bread with potato and other ingredients inside; govlama, bread stuffed with cheese and spinach or just cheese; shish kabobs and Russian barbecue.

"And we have baklava and other desserts, too," she said, adding that her favorite dishes are samsa, govlama and shish kabobs.

"I like all stuff, but these most because I love cheese," Khalidova said with a laugh.

Esch said she'd love to have more food vendors in the future, but so far she's only been able to line up Leyla's Bakery.

"It's very difficult to find Russian food vendors, because they have a hard time understanding how to fill out the paperwork to be at a festival like this," she said.

That said, there will be other local Russian and Eastern European businesses on hand selling items and handing out information about their products.

Sometimes non-English speakers are intimidated by the English-speaking public because they're afraid that they're unfriendly — but they shouldn't be, Esch said.

"But we want them to know Americans are friendly, they just don't always understand them," Esch said. "It's very important to develop friendly relationships."