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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

0.9% of Americans Have Russian Roots

KENDALL, Washington -- Peaceful Valley, a hamlet in the misty foothills of the northern Cascades, might have faded away years ago if the Russians hadn't started coming.

The 2000 census showed that 0.9 percent of Americans -- or some 2.5 million -- have Russian ancestry. And Peaceful Valley has a higher concentration of them than anywhere else in America. Nearly a quarter of the community's 2,579 residents reported Russian ancestry.

"I feel comfortable here," said Nadia Lagutochkin, who teaches English as a second language at the elementary school, where posters in the hallways spell out approximations of common Russian phrases: "ZDRAH-stvooee" for "hello."

She is among the many Russian immigrants who settled in this former logging community during the 1990s, drawn by cheap housing and strong churches.

U.S. towns with the highest concentration of people who reported Russian ancestry:
1. Peaceful Valley, Washington22.2%
2. Concordia, New Jersey22.0%
3. Wishek City, North Dakota20.1%
4. Mayfield Borough, Pennsylvania20.0%
5. McIntosh County, North Dakota19.9%
6. Whittingham, New Jersey19.0%
7. Clearbrook Park, New Jersey 18.7%
8. Pikesville, Maryland18.5%
9. Roslyn Estates Village, New York18.0%
10. Hewlett Harbor Village, New York17.9%
Source: AP

Like Lagutochkin, many are fundamentalist Christians whose status as refugees allowed them to bypass U.S. immigration quotas.

At Kendall Elementary, one-third of the 600 students speak Russian, according to principal Stephen Merz. An all-Russian Pentecostal Church rents the auditorium for Sunday services, which draw about 400 people.

School bus driver Alex Tikhonov moved to the Peaceful Valley area seven years ago for the church and the close-knit, rural atmosphere.

"I could see that it's hard to grow good kids in big areas like Seattle," said Tikhonov, who has six children. Here, a few hours north of Seattle, he can count on his neighbors to let him know if they get into mischief.

He was also able to afford land and a double-width mobile home, accomplishing his goal of becoming a homeowner.

He said his fellow bus drivers, who nicknamed him "Axle" because he also worked as a mechanic, have made him feel welcome.

Vacationers from Canada, less than 20 kilometers to the north, started the unincorporated Peaceful Valley community as a spot for summer homes in the 1970s. The decline in the timber industry sapped jobs from the area over the past two decades, but the infusion of young Russian families kept Peaceful Valley going.

The Russians mostly work in blue-collar jobs in Bellingham, a 35-minute drive away, and shop in Bellingham or just across the Canadian border. Kendall Elementary