World Cup chance meeting leads Russian woman to her childhood Chinese pen pal, 56 years on

Photo posted on WeChat by Chinese visitor to tournament host city Saransk is recognised, helping pair to resume correspondence conducted in Russian in 1960s

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:17pm

A Russian grandmother has been reconnected with her pen pal in China from five decades ago, thanks to a chance encounter involving a Chinese journalist visiting Russia for the soccer World Cup, state media reported on Wednesday.

Lyudmila Mitricheva Ivanova used the Chinese name Liu Xia when she began exchanging letters 56 years ago with a young girl in China named Duan Chunxiu, according to Beijing Youth Daily, which said the international pen pals wrote to each other in Russian, mostly about their school lives.

Ivanova was quoted as saying she sent three letters to Duan and received two back, including one revealing that the Chinese girl was a pupil at the No 2 Middle School in Xiangtan in Hunan province. “Liu” also received postcards showing Hangzhou West Lake, and rose-perfumed paper made in Amoy, as well as a small photograph of Duan, the report said.

“I am 15 years old. I am studying very well. I have a happy life,” Duan told Ivanova in a letter dated 1962, which included school photos – among them a portrait of Duan wearing a scarf denoting that she was a member of the Chinese Young Pioneers, a Communist Youth League organisation for children aged 6 to 14. Duan had asked the Russian girl to reply with some photos of herself, the report said.

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It was unclear why the pair lost contact, but Ivanova kept the letters and was described as being obsessed with re-establishing contact with Duan.

Ivanova now lives in Saransk, which has hosted four Fifa World Cup matches. In late June, she learned that a visiting Chinese reporter was staying in an apartment near her home, the report said.

A sports reporter for Chinese state television, Zhang Heyun, told the newspaper that Ivanova had asked him to use the power of the internet to try to find Duan.

“I just want to know if my pen pal is still alive and well,” the report quoted Ivanova as saying to Zhang.

Zhang posted about it on WeChat on Saturday, and on Sunday received a reply from a user who said she recognised the girl in the posted photo as a childhood classmate.

The WeChat user, who was not named in the report, told Zhang she was still in contact with Duan, and described her as being retired and in poor physical health.

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“Liu Xia (Ivanova) is also hospitalised, but she was very happy to hear the news,” the reporter was quoted as saying, adding that the Russian woman “provided her email and we will hand it over to Duan’s family”.

Relatives of Duan reportedly said that they told her about her Russian pen pal and that she recognised photos of her younger self which she had sent.

The report said Duan’s family and Ivanova were now in contact via email. Duan no longer remembers the Russian she learned as a child, so her family will try to use language translation software to allow the two to resume their correspondence, the report said.