MOSCOW -- American schoolgirl Samantha Smith left the Soviet Union today without meeting her host Yuri Andropov, but the spunky sixth-grader said it really didn't matter.
The 11-year-old from Manchester, Maine, said Leonid Zamyatin, a foreign specialist in the Communist Party, visited her hotel with a message from the Kremlin leader.
'He said he was very sorry he couldn't meet with me but he was just too busy and he wishes me good health and peace,' Samantha told a news conference today at her hotel before heading to the airport. Her Aeroflot flight bound for Montreal left the country at 4:53 a.m. EDT.
Andropov, who invited Samantha and her parents for a two-week expenses paid visit to the Soviet Union, was host to Hungarian leader Janos Kadar during the days he might have met Samantha.
'I had a lot of fun here but I'm homesick,' Samantha said, adding that she hoped to return next summer.
She said the highlight of her trip was swimming in the Black Sea at the Pioneer summer camp, Artek.
Her favorite of many gifts, which took up more than three suitcases, were two photograph albums recording her trip, Samantha said.
'Soviet people are very nice people -- they're almost just like Americans,' she said.
'Some people have the wrong impression about the Soviets, but the people who have been to the Soviet Union have a different impression - that the Soviets want peace like I do.'
Samantha's mother, Jane Smith, said it had been a wonderful trip. 'We've been treated as kindly as possible,' she said. 'We've met the nicest people, all of whom want peace.'
Among Samantha's gifts from Andropov was his personal calling card, Samantha said.
It became :lear the president would not attend a lunch for Samantha Wednesday when Zamyatin offered several gifts on Andropov's behalf.
'It doesn't bother me,' the sixth-grader said after learning that no meeting would take place. 'I feel I did get through to him in a way.'
Samantha's father, Arthur, told reporters she gave her secret present to Zamyatin as he stood in for Andropov -- a scholarly edition of Mark Twain's public addresses.
The gift was inspired by the letter Andropov wrote to Samantha inviting her to the Soviet Union, injecting her into the international arms control spotlight for weeks. In his letter Andropov said she reminded him of the Twain character, Becky Thatcher.
Smith broke the news that there would be no meeting with Andropov in a telephone conversation with reporters while Samantha skipped an afternoon trip to the children's Musical Theater to :atch a nap.
'Samantha didn't seem to be upset,' her father said. He described his own reaction as 'mildly' disappointed.