Updated: 03/26/2014 5:51 PM
Created: 03/26/2014 5:18 PM WDIO.com
By: Maarja Anderson
As the U.S. and Russian governments go head to head, citizens on the ground are trying to keep up. Amid the tensions, a dozen Russian citizen diplomats visited Duluth.
They aren't talking about politics. They are talking about plants and animals.
Many of them said, however, while the crisis rages on in their region, it's great to be in the U.S. speaking citizen to citizen and finding common ground.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed bills making Crimea part of Russia and completing the annexation from Ukraine. Tensions between the U.S. and Russian governments are now at an all time high.
But while the presidents go head-to-head from a distance, 12 Russian citizens are visiting Duluth on their own agenda.
They say the political turmoil back home hasn't affected their visit to the states.
"It is really a great time to be here, and to be honest, we don't feel any political conflicts," said Liubov Volkova.
"It's just politics, but we are beyond that, we are just people," said Anya Zavadskaya.
Organizer Bernadine Joselyn said the timing of the visit has, in fact, highlighted more than ever the importance of people-to-people contact, or citizen diplomacy.
"Because it's the relationships that people have with one another that endure and that help us see what we share in common," she explained.
Their visit is part of the U.S.- Russia Innovation Conference in St. Paul.
"Here, with our U.S. partners we are going to create a project which is devoted to preservation of our flora and fauna, both in the us and Russia," explained Zavadskaya.
They visited the National Resources Research Institute and learned about different sustainability efforts at UMD and local farms.
Joselyn said the group is very diverse and from all over Russia, but they all share a commitment to civic engagement and social improvement.
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