Sister cities in Florida and Russia have a central club in downtown Gulfport
Since 1973, the Russian-American Club in St. Petersburg, located in Gulfport at 2920 Beach Blvd. S., has been a connecting resource and party space for people of Russian descent in the area.
The club hasn’t been lively in previous years, prompting a restoration that brought Russian officials, a palm, and the City of Gulfport together for a “Friendship Tree” planting ceremony on Nov. 5 that is symbolic in bringing life to the historic space.
A “talker” in both languages, Vice President Kado Hetch wears his Russian heritage proudly and does much of the speaking, posting and planning for the Russian-American Club.
“We want to combine the two cities and connect them,” Hetch, a Gulfport resident, said. “We are planting Florida’s version of a birch tree [a symbol of Russia] which is a palm.”
The location is in Gulfport, not St. Petersburg, but it’s close enough to city limits that the coordination between both St. Petersburg, Florida and St. Petersburg, Russia makes sense.
“We’re hoping this could lead to some joint programs with universities and such,” said Alex Khilkov a Russian representative who is the Regional Director of the Congressional Office of International Literature. “We hope over time we’ll be able to see some positivity and outreach between the two cities. We need these links because building a network like this will only make us stronger.”
Khilkov, along with several other international visitors, attended the tree planting alongside City of Gulfport Councilmember Paul Ray and several representatives from the City of St. Petersburg.
Rushin’ a Revamp
Official Club President Peter Sidorenko took his current position after a lifetime of seeing his parents involved in the culture of the social club. The Sidorenko family lived in New York, but frequently visited Florida without ever missing a visit to the club with the intent on celebrating a culture that wasn’t always visible in the area.
“It was like going to one of my parents’ parties back in the day … when we would come, everyone would get together and dance and drink, and have a good time,” Sidorenko. “Now that the original population is sort of aging out, some of us have stepped up and helped run the organization.”
The next step is getting younger people involved, Sidorenko said.
“I’d like to see this become a sort of Russian cultural center,” he notes. “We have some of the volunteers teaching how to cook Russian dishes, Russian plays, and we have a lot of guest speakers. It would be good to see young people get involved.”
Watch for future events on Facebook: fb.com/RussianAmericanClub