Under portraits of Putin and Kims, children from North Korea and Russia study together

Inside a fourth-grade classroom in Russia's Far East, there is something unusual among the standard collection of posters, books and backpacks: Portraits of two former North Korean leaders hang side-by-side with a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian school, with seven students from North Korea, is taking part in a new program in the city of Khabarovsk that aims to promote cultural understanding between the neighboring countries.

Along with Putin, there are pictures on the classroom wall of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, the father and grandfather of North Korea's current leader, Kim Jong-un. Underneath the pictures are large placards with information about Russia and North Korea.

"The main purpose of this program is friendship" between the students, said Eduard Perepechai, the director of School No. 5. "When the children become older and more difficult situations arise, they will remember their childhood friendships and decide questions via diplomatic discussions and not take up arms."

Korean language study is not included in the curriculum, but the Korean students all can speak Russian.

In July, many of the 20 Russian students in the class went on a trip to a North Korean summer camp along with other students from Tanzania and Vietnam, according to their teacher, Yelena Ovodenko, who accompanied them.

Ovodenko said she was impressed with North Korea's beauty and hospitality. Camp participants organized talent shows and dances to show off their respective cultures and played soccer and volleyball together.

"It was interesting there," said Yekaterina Davidova, a 10-year-old student. "We walked everywhere and there were competitions every day. There was a sea and an aqua park and a pool."

When asked how they made friends with the North Korean students, Davidova said: "You could ask them in English what their names were and where they came from."

Under Putin, Russia has strengthened ties with North Korea and worked to bolster trade and transportation links.

Representatives from North Korea approached administrators at School No. 5 last year about opening this program, Perepechai said.

It's the second class in Khabarovsk that has focused on promoting friendship between North Korea and Russia, according to the local news site Gubernia.