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From Russia with Love

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Tatiana Lichtenwalter was at loose ends.

A friend invited her to come to the United States, so she applied for a visa for a half a year and arrived in America in 1992. Seventeen years later, she's still here.

I decided to stay for good, Lichtenwalter, who lives in Albany, said. "I was fascinated by America."

As much as Lichtenwalter has embraced her new home, though, she still feels connected to her old one.

"Russia is my motherland," she said. "I love my culture."

So, Lichtenwalter gathered up some fellow Russians and started the New Russia Cultural Center. The organization's aim is to foster an appreciation of Russian folk arts and Russian-American history and culture in the United States.

To that end, the center is sponsoring a Russian winter festival Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Crossings of Colonie. There will be traditional music and dance performances, Russian food, Russian crafts, Russian costumes and games for children.

"It's a family-oriented event," Lichtenwalter said. "It's going to be a really fun time."

The festival commemorates Masleitsa, or Pancake Week, the Russian celebration of the end of winter and the approaching of Lent, the Christian period of fasting.

"It's like a Russian Mardi Gras," Lichtenwalter explained.

She hopes the festival will help introduce the Capital District's Russian population to the community. There are up to 10,000 Russian-Americans in the area, she said, noting that that figure encompasses people from a number of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

Peter Dzyuba, for example, is originally from the Ukraine. In the early 1990s, he was visiting relatives in Australia when he was introduced to Christian icons, sacred images representing Jesus, saints and other religious figures. Having never seen such icons because of the religious oppression in his homeland, Dzyuba was awestruck and decided he wanted to create his own icons.

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