Durham city council members last month voted unanimously to suspend its “sister cities” relationship with Kostroma, Russia owing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The council members’ decision during a regularly scheduled meeting on August 15 was in response to a recommendation from the Sister Cities of Durham (SCD) board of director’s to suspend the Bull City’s three-decade long relationship with Kostroma.
The SCD board members held a special session in late June and voted to suspend Durham’s Sister City relationship with Kostroma, according to a city memo made public prior to the city council’s August 15 meeting.
Kostroma is a city in western Russia that sits along the banks of the Volga River with a population of about 277,280.
The city of Durham in the United Kingdom ended its “twinning arrangement” with Kostroma in March, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Durham officials began its twin cities relationship with the riverside city in 1989, the same year that it established the nonprofit sister cities program.
Durham has nine Sister Cities, all approved by city council, along with two “Friendship Cities,” according to the memo.
The nonprofit’s goal is “to promote international friendship, intercultural understanding, and economic development with exchange programs in the areas of education, government, business, medicine, the environment, and arts,” Amber Wade, an assistant to Mayor Elaine O’Neal wrote in a memo to city manager Wanda Page.
Now, as a result of the suspension, SCD “will suspend any official correspondence with officials in Kostroma and its citizens who have worked with the Kostroma City Committee,” Wade stated in the memo.
SCD will also “suspend all planning for new exchange programs” and “remove the Kostroma quilt from the Sister City collection on display in the lobby of City Hall.”
Wade’s memo notes that throughout the city’s decades-long relationship with Kostroma, the only recurring event highlighting the Russian city has been SCD’s annual Festival of Nations, where all of Durham’s Sister Cities are equally highlighted with each having an information booth.
“Kostroma will not be included in the festival,” according to the memo.
Wade also noted that “Kostroma has not been highlighted separately in any of SCD’s events or programs; instead, Kostroma has been listed with all other sister cities as a group.”
The memo also noted that “references to Kostroma will be deleted where possible or notation will be provided that the relationship has been suspended,” and “the SCD webpage on the City of Durham’s website will be updated to reflect Kostroma’s suspended status.”
Moreover, “SCD’s website and future printed materials will also be updated to reflect Kostroma’s suspended status.”
Wade notes in the memo that “tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated with Russia invading Ukraine” in February.
In response to the invasion, SCD board members in March “adopted a resolution opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reaffirming support of Ukraine’s independence,” according to the memo.
Then, in early June, O’Neal attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Reno, Nevada.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky “joined the conference virtually and urged [the] mayors to end sister city relationships with Russia,” according to the memo.
When O’Neal returned to Durham, she met with SCD board members and shared with them President Zelensky’s request, according to the memo.
The SCD “will closely monitor the situation and make a recommendation to the mayor and city council about restoring a sister city relationship with Kostroma, Russia when circumstances have sufficiently improved,” Wade stated.
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