At the year’s final session of Russian Camp MN, held recently in southwestern Minnesota, the overall peacefulness feels especially precious. Many staffers and campers are concerned about family in Ukraine and Russia. Opposing views of the war between those countries have brought tension among some expatriates. 

Yet the camp community has remained intact, as its members negotiate new understandings of what it means to be Russian-speaking Americans and work together to support Ukrainians. Some in the group also struggle at times with identity and their ties to Russian culture. 

Why We Wrote This

A Russian language camp in Minnesota that welcomes children through the fall wasn’t sure how it would fare this year because of the war in Ukraine. Organizers found that unity and hope prevailed.

Changes have been made at the camp’s sessions, which are attended by some Ukrainians who have arrived in the United States since the war began. Campers have stopped singing “Katyusha,” an iconic Russian folk song that is closely associated with Russia’s military. Staff members are also making a point of highlighting the regional or religious traditions that have shaped them, since people from more than a dozen nations speak the language.

Seeing young people’s kindness and openness gives those involved hope for the longer term.   

“It’s our chance to bring them up as advocates for peace and understanding,” says the camp’s director and founder, Tamara von Schmidt-Pauli. “In the future they can be the people who bring democracy and normalcy back to Russia.”

To look at them running and playing on the campground in the autumn sunshine, they might be any kids enjoying Minnesota’s fall vacation from school. But listening to them, and to the adults cheering them on, reveals something unique about the gathering: Everyone is speaking Russian. 

At the year’s final session of “Игра. Unplugged,” or Russian Camp MN, in southwestern Minnesota, the overall peacefulness feels especially precious. Many staffers and campers, some of whom have recently arrived from Ukraine are concerned about family members there and in Russia. Opposing views of the war between those countries have brought tension among some expatriates. 

Yet the camp community has remained intact, as its members negotiate new understandings of what it means to be Russian-speaking Americans and work together to support Ukrainians. Some in the group also struggle at times with identity and their ties to Russian culture, but seeing young people’s kindness and openness gives them hope for the longer term.   

Why We Wrote This

A Russian language camp in Minnesota that welcomes children through the fall wasn’t sure how it would fare this year because of the war in Ukraine. Organizers found that unity and hope prevailed.

“It’s our chance to bring them up as advocates for peace and understanding,” says the camp’s director and founder, Tamara von Schmidt-Pauli. “In the future they can be the people who bring democracy and normalcy back to Russia.”

“It’s our common language”

Responding to the war has inspired some adjustments here in the woods along the St. Croix River, where campers ages 6 to 18 from across the United States gather to be immersed in Russian without the distraction of their cell phones and tablets. This year families chose from three overnight sessions, including five days in October, and from day camps held in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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