EC leaders attend service for Russians in Va.
By Jon Hawley
Sunday, February 18, 2018
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — City leaders from both Elizabeth City and Portsmouth, Virginia joined Russian dignitaries on Friday for a memorial service for long-departed Russian sailors.
The service, called a Panikhida, was held at the U.S. Naval Hospital Cemetery in Portsmouth.
Conducted by Father Richard Reed of St. Joseph of Optina Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the service honored six Russian imperial sailors who died — apparently from illness — while visiting Norfolk, Va., in 1877.
According to a program from Friday’s service, the six sailors are buried at the U.S. Naval Hospital Cemetery, but only three of them have been identified so far. The sailors were crew members aboard the frigate Svetlana, which brought Russian nobles to visit the U.S. in 1877, some of whom were entertained at the White House by then-President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Elizabeth City officials said Friday’s memorial service included the Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as well as other Russian officials. Capt. Jack Freeman, of U.S. Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads and Col. Chris Forbes of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency also offered remarks.
Following the service, City Councilman Rickey King said the ceremony went well, calling it a “great experience.” Also attending the service from Elizabeth City were Councilor Billy Caudle and former city councilor Tony Stimatz.
King, the council’s mayor pro tem, said he had never attended a panikhida service before. A panikhida is a rite of the Eastern Orthodox church, the predominant Christian faith in Russia and many Eastern European countries.
Though there is political tension and suspicion between the U.S. and Russia today — particularly as U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia is meddling in American elections — King said Friday’s ceremony showed the nations can come together to honor their deceased veterans.
“The countries are coming together for the fallen,” he said.
Friday’s ceremony marks one of many joint U.S.-Russian efforts to memorialize the two nations’ fallen soldiers. Those efforts also include bringing a World War II monument to Elizabeth City's U.S. Coast Guard Park.
That monument, to be paid for by Russia, will honor aviators of the United States, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union who participated in Project Zebra. That project brought Soviet airmen to the United States to train with aircraft the United States provided to support the allied effort against Nazi Germany. Russia is seeking to place the monument in Elizabeth City because Russian and Ukrainian airmen died in a plane crash on the Pasquotank River in 1945.
Olson said Friday that city staff continue working with the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs to bring the monument to Elizabeth City. However, he said there are numerous legal and logistical issues in accepting the monument, given another nation is involved. City officials’ hope is to have the monument in place by year's end, he said.