Anton Eltsov wasn’t born when the greater Waterville community and his hometown of Kotlas, Russia, became sister cities in 1990.

But the 16-year-old is reaping benefits of the pact, which for 22 years has sought to promote cultural exchanges, understanding and friendships among the cities’ citizens.

When Eltsov returns in early February to his city of 82,000 people in northwestern Russia, he will have snowboarded at Sugarloaf, visited Acadia National Park, Boston and New York City, attended classes at Messalonskee High School, gone to an Oakland Town Council meeting and met Gov. Paul LePage and Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

Eltsov is staying with Oakland Town Councilor Mark Fisher during his three-plus-week visit.

Eltsov and Fisher became friends via a social network site similar to Facebook, and Fisher invited him to Maine.

“Everything is so new to our guests,” Fisher said. “I like seeing the world through their eyes. It’s very nice to share democracy.”

Eltsov said he has enjoyed improving his English during his talks with Mainers.

His impressions so far?

“American people are more polite,” said the 10th-grader, who has been studying English for about three years.

Arina Pavlova, an English teacher from Kotlas, accompanied Eltsov on the exchange.

This is Pavlova’s second trip to Waterville. She was thrilled to again be staying with Martha Patterson of Waterville, whom she calls a dear friend.

Patterson, co-chairwoman of the Kotlas Connection, said the feeling is mutual.

“It’s just beautiful to have a relationship and understand people from another country,” said Patterson, the chemist at MaineGeneral Medical Center who regularly hosts barbecues for guests from Kotlas at her Belgrade camp. “They are so warm and friendly. It makes you feel it is a small world after all.”

Trust and relations between Russia and the United States have greatly improved since the early 1980s, when Peter Garrett of Winslow initiated attempts to establish a partnership with the Soviet city.

In l982, then-President Ronald Reagan called Soviet Union the Evil Empire; in 1983 a Soviet warplane shot down a Korean airliner in Soviet airspace; and in 1984 Reagan joked in front of a live microphone that Russia had been outlawed and bombing was to begin in five minutes.

In 1984, the Doomsday Clock — which shows how close the world is to catastrophic nuclear destruction — was moved from 4 minutes to midnight to 3 minutes to midnight because of deteriorating U.S.-Soviet relations.

At the start of 2012, the clock was at 5 minutes to midnight.

While Garrett pursued establishing a relationship with Kotlas during the 1980s, he was called a Red, and some area councilors balked at the idea, according to Jean Ann Pollard’s historical piece on the Kotlas-Waterville Area Sister City Connection website.

Citizens in both cities persevered though, and in 1990 an agreement was forged. The following year, the Soviet Union dissolved.

Ever since, people of various ages from Kotlas and the greater area Waterville community have made regular exchange trips.

During a visit to a local school this month, Pavlova was surprised at the bright and varied decorations and that students moved about so freely in classrooms. She also visited a nursing home, something she said she has never seen in Russia.

In Kotlas, Pavlova said it’s customary for older people to live with their children or grandchildren, or by themselves.

“They are very dedicated to their families and they help each other out,” Patterson said. “They are more old-fashioned — the way we used to be.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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