Twelve young performers, who were among the 700 Russians held hostage in a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels in October, are due to arrive in Athens this afternoon for a weeklong cultural and travel program organized for them by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO). «Tourism means friendship and freedom to travel in spite of terrorist attacks such as the one in Moscow,» GNTO President Yiannis Patellis told Kathimerini English Edition. Patellis extended the invitation to the young actors – who are between 12 and 18 years old – via Russian Deputy Tourism Minister Vladimir Strzhalkovsky during the Philoxenia tourism conference in Thessaloniki in November. The minister was «thrilled to accept,» said Patellis, adding that «Russia has always been a beloved people to the Greeks and this is an opportunity to offer Greek hospitality and forge ties between young Russians and young Greeks.» The young thespians – who had been on stage when Chechen terrorists stormed the Moscow theater – were equally enthusiastic and «can’t wait to get here,» Patellis added. The program begins this evening when the youngsters, accompanied by an entourage of Russian journalists, will attend a performance by the European Union Youth Orchestra at the Athens Concert Hall, marking Greece’s official assumption of the EU presidency. A tour of the sights of Athens tomorrow will be followed by a cruise of islands in the Saronic Gulf including Aegina, Hydra and Poros on Saturday. Day-trips to Epidaurus and Delphi, visits to various museums and lessons in traditional Greek dancing with young Greeks will complete the program which culminates next Thursday. «The emphasis is on the Russian youngsters mixing with Greeks of the same age and we will be ensuring they socialize as much as possible over the course of the week,» Patellis said. The GNTO had extended a similar invitation to the children of the New York firemen who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers in November 2001 but the children were unable to travel due to shock, he added.