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The City Journals

‘They wanted to talk about peace’ A unique insight into Russian protests

Apr 03, 2022 08:00PM ● By Jet Burnham

Bryan Leggat (at right) and his peers on their trip to Moscow in February 1985. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Leggat.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

As he watches Russians protest the invasion of Ukraine, Bryan Leggat wonders if those protesters are the same teenagers, now grown up, that he talked with about world peace 37 years ago.

Leggat, a resident of Herriman and principal at Joel P. Jensen Middle School in West Jordan, had the opportunity to take a school trip in February 1985, in the middle of the Cold War, to Moscow, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. As the child of a military officer, he attended Berlin American High School in Germany, which sponsored the trip.

“It was just an amazing time and I love to reflect on it now,” Leggat said. “I think how grateful I am that I was fortunate enough as a teenager to have that experience. It made me a different person.”

He remembers that as a 14-year-old, his first impressions were about the differences between the two cultures.

“At first, we seemed so different, them wearing neutral-colored uniforms, while we Americans wore a rainbow of capitalistic colors. Them with their stiff movements and hard accents, while we were casual in action and speech. But it just took a few minutes of talking to recognize that there was something quite similar that we shared. These were kids like us, with hopes and dreams. Like us, they had years ahead of them with years of life to experience.”

The Russian students taught the visitors some traditional Russian dances, and in return, the American students showed them some breakdancing moves. When they had an opportunity to just sit and talk with each other, Leggat was surprised by what the Soviet students wanted to talk about.

“They wanted to talk about world peace,” he said. “We’re in the middle of communist Soviet Union, in the heart of the Cold War, and this was what they wanted to discuss.”

Leggat likes to think that those teenagers, now adults, still have that same desire for peace and that they are some of those who are campaigning for peace in their country.

“I watch the Russians in these squares, standing up to Putin, calling for peace, risking being arrested— or their brothers and sisters in Ukraine risking it all for their freedom. And I think of those kids, who are now in their 40s and 50s…are there with this same desire, whether they are on the side of Russia or Ukraine. This same courageous, tireless, and hopeful message, from that school building back in the middle of the Cold War heart of Russia, continues today: the universal desire for world peace.”