U.S. first lady tours Russian school for orphans

MOSCOW — Michelle Obama took time away from her husband’s public diplomacy, summit speeches and protocol meetings today to visit a Russian school for orphans and a nurse training college in Moscow.

The U.S. first lady was spending time touring sites around the Russian capital while her husband was meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and other officials.

At St. Dmitry Primary School, where around 160 children, many of them orphans, study, Michelle Obama was met by about two dozen students at a second-grade classroom, where she listened to them read several poems in English and sing a Russian folk song.

Two of the children gave her homemade presents, and a girl in a wheelchair then asked Obama in Russian if she had any children. The first lady responded through a translator that she has two daughters — Malia and Sasha — who she said remained behind in the hotel with their grandmother.

Later Obama went on a tour of the complex’s St. Dmitry Cathedral and met with several dozen nursing students at the college.

“It’s very important for us that you are doing a lot of charity. You have scored a record in fundraising and attracting volunteers,” the church’s chief priest, Arkady Shatov, told Obama.

After listening to the nursing students speak about their work in HIV and AIDS treatment projects, she said: “The education of the broader public is just as important as taking care of the patients.”

She was also given a traditional Russian nesting doll — dressed as a nurse.

Svetlana Arzamastseva, director of the nursing college, later called Obama “a very beautiful person, an openhearted person” and noted Obama’s experience developing volunteers and fundraising for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“We have a common business with her,” Arzamastseva said. “It’s very pleasing for us that the first lady does the same thing as we do.”

Father Arkady later said he had heard Obama was known as a record fundraiser when she worked at the Chicago hospital.

“That’s a very generous title,” she said.

On Monday, Obama and her daughters joined Medvedev’s wife Svetlana on a low-key tour of the Kremlin, having tea in the Winter Garden and visiting the Kremlin’s largest church — the Cathedral of the Assumption, where czars were once coronated.

They also toured the Armory museum, which boasts a large collection of imperial regalia, and the State Diamond Fund, home to the 190-carat Orlov diamond and the world’s largest sapphire.

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