Celebrating the Day of Russia at the Embassy in Washington, DC USA
The idea sounded too good to be true. But when the invitations arrived, it became a reality: the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. had invited the board of directors for the Russian-American Community Center of Florida to come enjoy Russia’s national holiday at the embassy along with a cadre of diplomats, officials and Russian citizens. Florida Russian Lifestyle sat down with the attending board members before and after the event to find out how they prepared beforehand, what expectations they had and finally how the evening unfolded when they arrived.
The Day of Russia, (День России) is a national holiday occurring each year on June 12. It began in 1992 when the First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In Russia the holiday has similar hallmarks to the American July 4 celebration, including concerts, fireworks and national honors.
The celebration at the embassy in Washington is one of the premier events each year and is considered one of the largest in terms of attendance, preparation and budget. Guest invitations are formal in design and coordination of attendees is a vital step prior to arrival, due to security requirements. The board of directors sent their President, Jef Gray and Directors of: Communication (Natalya Illarionova), Education (Anna Kiryakova), Sarasota Office (Yuliya Gaukhman), and legal counsel Ksenia Maiorova.
Several questions arose among the group as they prepared for the event. Discussions included protocol among dignitaries and what to wear based on the ‘Business Attire’ noted on the invitation. When they arrived, they were relieved that everyone blended in with the style of suits and dresses worn by the other attendees.
The event required the group to travel to Washington DC, which provided some time for sightseeing during the day. An impromptu tour included visits at the Marine memorial, the Pentagon, Treasury Department and the White House. “It was disappointing to see that tours of the White House had been cancelled due to the sequester but we made the most of seeing it from Pennsylvania Avenue.” Said Anna Kiryakova. “Washington is an impressive city, with beautiful buildings in all directions and so much history at each corner.”
Finally the time arrived to attend the celebration, the well dressed group walked toward the high fenced perimeter atop Mount Alto on Wisconsin Ave where they were checked in by security. One by one they made their way through the metal detectors, identification checks and guest list verifications emerging on the other side eager to see what was waiting for them inside the ceremonial building. A trail of guests walked across the complex, stopping for photos and greeting friends as everyone moved inside.
Once through the doors, the foyer was filled with approximately 500 guests who were waiting to ascend the grand staircase where the main event would be held. Promotional displays were set up featuring the Sochi preparations and construction progress for the 2014 Olympic Games. 3D computer models and videos revealed an inspiring fly through of the housing, competition fields and guest services. It was clear that all details in Sochi have been considered, from the capacity of public transportation to the pristine sport complexes.
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Suddenly the crowd began to move up the stairs toward the reception line which included the Ambassador and several dignitaries. The line directed traffic directly into the main chamber, where endless tables of hors d’oeuvres had been prepared. An ensemble of musicians played classic string arrangements to entertain the guests as they talked with each other. “I really got a sense of the elegance and culture; it was exactly what you would imagine at an embassy dinner. The Bohemian crystal chandeliers, high ceilings, tasteful décor and amazing food, it was all very impressive!” said Yuliya Gaukman. “It was like an exploration of food disguised as art; we would put something on our plate and then walk across the room to see what they had on the other tables.”
The Ambassador greeted everyone and said a few words along with his guests. The message included wishes for cooperation, hope and continued cooperation between nations. The international setting presented a unique mix of languages as you walked through the crowd. At any given moment three or more languages could be heard in any direction, as glasses chimed in toasts and affirmations of goodwill.
The opulent surroundings provided numerous opportunities to admire the classic paintings that adorned the walls and ceilings. On each opposing end of the ballroom, known as the golden hall, viewers can see elaborate imagery capturing the empire of the former Soviet Union. The left wall includes images of the ancient Russian cities, many of which are located on the “Golden ring” tourist route. On the right wall there are contemporary images of the 15 capitals of the former Soviet republics.
Attached rooms to the golden hall, include the blue hall and green hall. The blue hall is devoted to the well known Russian emperor Peter I. The blue color of the room is intended as a tribute to the emperor’s nautical achievements and establishment of the Russian fleet. A replica engraving of Peter I is mounted in the center wall of the room.
The green hall is a tribute to historic Russian crafts, featuring artistic renderings in egg tempera and gold. The paintings depict beautiful images from Russian legends and fairy tales. A white concert piano catches your eye as you enter through the high doors that adjoin the two halls.
“While standing in the golden hall, I noticed this beautiful gilded icon placed in the corner of the room, it was Our Lady of Kazan, which is one of the most valuable exhibits in the embassy. It was inspiring to see it placed so prominently in a room, representing an entire nation, where religion had once been forbidden.” Said Ksenia Maiorova.
The evening continued outside with additional festivities in the inner courtyard, which included Russian style shish kabobs, called “shashlik”, and other dishes. Guests mingled and chatted along the corridors or by the fountain at the center of the courtyard. A band played relaxing songs, making the atmosphere comfortable and friendly. “Everyone seemed open and ready to make new friends, business connections or just get acquainted. I met diplomats, staff and other guests, all while enjoying the best shashlik I’ve ever had.” Said Jef Gray, “From start to finish, this was a 5 star event.”
The evening concluded as guests made their way back through the fenced perimeter onto Wisconsin Avenue. “At that moment, as I stepped back through the gates, I remember having the sensation as if I had just returned from Russia. There is no higher compliment for an embassy; that while on the premises you feel yourself in their country—regardless of where the facility is located.” Said Gray.