The League of Women Voters has hosted delegations of Russians in the United States as part of the Open World Leadership Center (OWLC) since 2005.  From May 11th - May 23rd, 2009, a League delegation traveled throughout Russia to the cities of Moscow, Kaluga, and St. Petersburg to visit with local partners and with twenty three former participants of the hosting program.

Day 1 - The delegation arrived in Moscow on May 12th. The delegates were welcomed to Moscow during an evening meeting with OWLC's representatives and alumni, American Councils for International Education, representatives from the Women's Social Democratic Congress, and a Deputy of the Moscow City Duma. During this meeting the delegates had the opportunity to discuss elections processes and women running for elected office. The discussion invited interesting comparisons between the experience of Russian and American women and men who seek elected office.

Day 2 - The delegation spent the day touring Moscow's major sights such as St. Basil's Cathedral. The group also toured the private collection of famous Russian artist Ilya Glazunov. The day ended with a folk dance concert at the Tchaikovsky Theater in downtown Moscow.

Day 3 - The delegation spent Thursday meeting with government officials and NGO professionals. The day began at the Moscow City Duma, where the Chairman, Vladimir Platonov, and several Duma deputies discussed voting and elections processes, taxes, women's political involvement, and civic engagement with the delegation. At the conclusion of a tour of the Duma, Chairman Platonov presented Zaida Arguedas, Deputy Executive Director, with a framed picture of Moscow. Ms. Arguedas presented the Chairman with officials greeting from LWVUS President, Mary Wilson, and a copy of the League's publication Choosing the President 2008.  In the afternoon the delegation participated in a roundtable with variety organizations currently working on the advancement of women and/or civil society in Russia. There was a lively discussion about the different avenues through which women can access political life in Russia and comparisons to the work of like-minded organizations in the U.S. An observer from the Voice of Russia broadcasting company was present during this meeting and took the time to interview Zaida Arguedas, Manuela Campbell, and Alice Franks about their impressions of Russia (link to the full interview below). After the roundtable the group participated in a reception and folk music concert presented by the Moscow Chapter of Friendship Force International. Members of the League's delegation participated in the festivities by playing traditional Russian instruments.

Day 4 - On Friday, May 15th the delegation met with Anna Koshman, Executive Director of AIRP, United Independent Newspaper Publishers, and her colleague Maria Eismont, Program director of Eurasia Media Program. The discussion focused on quality of journalism in the U.S and Russia. The delegation posed many questions about the current state of Russian media, including how journalists are trained and any restrictions that publishers may face.In the afternoon, the delegation toured the Kremlin territory before departing for Kaluga. In Kaluga, a city of 350,000 located south of Moscow, the delegates were greeted very warmly by their host families. Members of all five of the host families had participated in Open World programs throughout the U.S.

Days 5 and 6 - Over the weekend the delegation spent time getting to know their host families and touring the city of Kaluga. The delegation toured nearby historic monasteries and a convent: Optina Pustym, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, and Shamordino. The delegation also learned about Kaluga's role as the "Cradle of Cosmonautics" at the Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics.

Day 7 - The delegation began the day meeting with Alexander Ivanov, Chief of the Kaluga City Duma. Mr. Ivanov participated in the Open World program in Worcester, MA in 2005. During this meeting the delegation discussed local elections processes as well as the current projects of the Kaluga City Duma. The delegation then spent time at a local public school that has a strong focus on English language studies. In the afternoon the delegation visited the city's television and radio station where the delegates discussed the role of women in politics and journalism with the Deputy Chief of the station. Following the discussion, the Chief of the station, Alexander Barkov, led the delegation on a tour of the facilities. Mr. Barkov also participated in the Open World Program in Worcester with Mr.Ivanov. The evening concluded with a farewell dinner for the host families and delegates at a local restaurant.

Day 8 - The delegation spent the morning meeting with a local painter, Vladimir Aripev. He welcomed the delegation to his art studio where he spoke about his collection and what inspired specific paintings in his collection.After gathering their belongings and bidding farewell to their host families at the train station, the delegates spent rest of the day traveling to the next destination. The delegates returned to Moscow, where they spent the evening until boarding the overnight train to St. Petersburg.

Day 9 - The delegates arrived in St. Petersburg early in the morning on May 20th. The delegates spent the morning touring the city, first by bus and then by boat. The delegates also had the opportunity to tour the grounds of the Peter and Paul's Fortress, including Peter and Paul's Cathedral where the Russian tsars are entombed. The last half of the day was spent in meetings. The delegation met with the League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg. Tatiana Durotina, Chairman of the League of St. Petersburg, led a candid discussion about elections and party politics in Russia. The delegates shared their experiences and reflections on the most recent presidential election cycle in the U.S. and the members of the League of St. Petersburg shared their thoughts on the direction of democracy in Russia. Afterwards, Zaida Arguedas presented Ms. Durotina with official greetings from Mary Wilson.The day ended with a reception organized by the Open World Leadership Center and American Councils for International Education. Several Open World alumni who were hosted by the League attended this meeting and provided updates about their professional progress since they completed the program. Alumni, Kseniya Ivanova and Svetlana Prokudina, who both participated in an Open World program coordinated by delegate Pat Dooley's League in Wichita, KS, attended the reception and reunited with their host. Anna Feofanova, who was hosted by the League of Portland, OR, and Natalya Pisareva, who was hosted by the League of Bartlesville, OK, also attended the reception.

Days 10 and 11 - The final two days in St. Petersburg consisted of a tours of the State Hermitage Museum, the palaces and gardens of Peterhof, St. Isaac's Cathedral and other cultural excursions. The delegation also continued to meet Open World alumni. Artur Smolyar made a trip to Peterhof to reunite with his host, Pat Dooley. Pat hosted Mr. Smolyar in Wichita, KS in November, 2008.

Day 12 - The delegation began their journey home. The group departed St. Petersburg with several souvenirs, including and a new perspective on Russia and many lasting friendships and professional relationships. This was an experience that the participating delegates will not soon forget.

Fotos are available on Flickr.