California students held in Russia headed home

Four students from Northern California who travelled to Russia for a leadership conference had their trip cut short and were ordered home after Russian authorities said they had the wrong visas.

Liana Randazzo, 27, and Quygen Ngo, 24, of San Jose, and Jennifer Phan, 21, and Sterling Winter, 18, of Chico, traveled to St. Petersburg on Oct. 31 under a grant from an Oakland, California nonprofit to attend a two-week leadership conference.

Immigration authorities and police arrived at the conference unexpectedly Thursday and demanded to see their visas.

“This was a political statement the Russian government was trying to make,” said Scott Winter, who said his son and the others were interrogated and briefly detained while they were put on trial and fined the equivalent of $110 each.

June Thompson, the executive director of the nonprofit, the California Association of Student Councils, said Tuesday that Russian immigration authorities deported the students, accusing them of having obtained tourist visas when they should have had business visas.

Thompson said she understands that Russia is sensitive to concerns that Westerners may come to the country to engage in efforts to teach the locals about political activism that could be seen as encouraging opposition.

“If they get a sense of an American organization or any foreign money is coming in, then they have to register as a foreign agent,” Thompson said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the four were “briefly detained in St. Petersburg before being released” and they were provided “all possible assistance.”

Thompson said the four handled the situation with extraordinary poise and clear thinking. They were returning to the U.S. on Tuesday afternoon and not available for comment.

The conference was being led by the Association of Young Leaders, a Russia-based association that teaches young people leadership skills.

Thompson says none of the students was harmed. They were expected to land at San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday.

CaliforniaCalifornia NewsCalifornia studentsRussiaVisas

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
City sets ambitious goal to vaccinate residents by June

Limited supply slows distribution of doses as health officials seek to expand access

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at Biden's inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden issues call for ‘unity’ amidst extreme partisan rancor

‘I will be a president for all Americans,’ he says in inauguration speech

MARIETTA, GA - NOVEMBER 15: Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock (L) of Georgia taps elbows during a rally for supporters on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia. Both become senators Wednesday.  (Jenny Jarvie/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Vice President Harris swears in senators Padilla, Warnock, Ossoff

New Democratic senators tip balance of power in upper legislative house

President Joe Biden plans to sign a number of executive orders over the next week. (Biden Transition/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)
Biden signals new direction by signing mask order on his first day in office

President plans ambitious 10-day push of executive orders, legislation

Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor as her husband Doug Emhoff looks on at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
A new turn in history: Kamala Harris sworn in as 49th vice president

Noah Bierman and Melanie Mason Los Angeles Times Kamala Devi Harris, born… Continue reading

Most Read