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US-Soviet ties may be chilled, but kids' peace play goes on

By Hilary DeVriesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 1986

Essex, Mass.

KSENIYA Kuleshova sits demurely astride a wall of Yankee granite tucking in her first New England clambake. Her fuchsia-colored T-shirt, which is rapidly becoming flecked with melted butter, proclaims, ``You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.'' When asked by of one her dinner companions if she does indeed have a friend in the Keystone State, 16-year-old Kseniya, who lives in Moscow, laughs and gives a sticky thumbs-up sign. ``I like to be with the people here,'' she says in halting English. ``To help people understand how to [live] together.''

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Kseniya, along with nine other Soviet children, is in the United States as part of the Soviet-American musical ``Peace Child'' -- a semiprofessional theatrical production featuring Soviet and American youths now on a 12-city North American tour as part of the United Nations International Year of Peace.

An outgrowth of the ``space bridge,'' the Soviet-American satellite hookup broadcast between Moscow and Minneapolis last summer, the current ``Peace Child'' production, which just returned from a three-week tour in the Soviet Union, represents one of the first cultural exchanges to occur between the two superpowers since last November's exchange agreement was reached at the Geneva summit. Accompanied by the Soviet rock band Stas Namin (which recently organized a benefit concert for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident), ``Peace Child'' will be performed at a special UN Peace Day celebration in New York today.

``Ours is a project that offers a challenge to children that they can have some effectiveness in the world peace process,'' says David Woollcombe, the British writer and director of the show, whose plot centers on the friendship between an American girl and a Soviet boy who set in motion a successful global peace effort.

Although far less culturally significant than the recent North American tour by the Kirov Ballet or the Moscow performances by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, ``Peace Child'' has gained symbolic significance. It comes at a time of chilled relations between the US and the Soviet Union, largely in the wake of the jailing of American reporter Nicholas Daniloff, who has been charged with spying on the Soviets in Moscow.

Recent ``Peace Child'' performances in Boston were picketed by anti-Soviet demonstrators, while two weeks ago a tear-gas bombing in New York disrupted the tour of the Soviet Moiseyev Dance Company. Meanwhile, the Chautauqua Conference, a cultural and diplomatic exchange sponsored by the Chautauqua Institution and the Eisenhower Institute, to be held in the Soviet Union this week, was almost scrapped until until Mr. Daniloff was released into US custody last Friday.

``It has been our policy all along not to sacrifice cultural exchanges to such political crises as the Daniloff affair,'' says Ambassador Stephen H. Rhinesmith, co-ordinator of the US Information Agency's US-Soviet Exchange Initiative and a Chautauqua delegate.

``The US decided to make [the Daniloff case] a major political issue now,'' says Vladimir Litvinov, an official of the Soviet Union's Ministry of Culture and the official Soviet representative on the ``Peace Child'' tour. ``But these youth and cultural exchanges are separate. They go along with [President Reagan's] original initiative.''