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Westport and Easton sign sister city agreements with liberated Ukrainian cities

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (from left), Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov of Lyman, Ukraine, tour Westport's sister city.
Ukraine Aide International
Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (from left), Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov of Lyman, Ukraine, tour Westport's sister city.

Town leaders from Westport and Easton made history for becoming the first U.S. delegation of officials to visit Eastern Ukrainian cities recently recaptured by the Ukrainian military.

They signed sister city agreements with their Ukrainian counterparts and said they are committed to forging long lasting ties.

Westport first announced its sister city status last December; however, it became official in late May. The moment the memorandum was signed held great significance, according to Westport First Selectwoman, Jen Tooker.

“It was an honor. But the seriousness of the commitment is not lost on me,” Tooker said.

Tooker said her counterpart, Lyman Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov, does very much the same things she does.

Zhuravlov fields questions and concerns from constituents. He also deals with traffic and tax issues. But he’s also dealing with a cash-strapped city having lost much of its infrastructure in heavy fighting.

“He's dealing with a budget that is 70% less than what he had before, because he doesn't have the commerce, he doesn't have the railroad and all the industries associated with the railroad,” Tooker said.

Westport residents helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.

Brian Mayer is executive director of Ukraine Aid International, which delivers aid to the country and helped facilitate the trip. Mayer is asking for donations. He said the officials were never in danger but they traveled to the country over a land route due to the country’s restricted airspace.

But no one was taking any chances.

“We ensured that our delegates were protected with police escorts and armored vehicles and highly regulated security procedures,” Mayer said.

The devastation has been immense. Tooker said 85% of Lyman is now destroyed, having been recaptured in 2022. The human costs, Koskinas said, are also vast.

Koskinas said his counterpart deals with the same issues other city police chiefs around the world face. Murders still need solving, theft still happens, but Koskinas will most likely never need to collect evidence which would be presented to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But Lyman’s police chief is.

“It's eye opening, the police chief … is now responsible for fact and evidence gathering for mass graves to preserve and create data and evidence and to ultimately be turned over to the UN for war crimes,” Koskinas said.

There are other differences. Lyman’s police force has suffered losses due to combat, defections to Russia and illness.

But while there are differences, there were moments of shared connections.

Easton’s First Selectman David Bindelglass stood with Sviatohirsk Mayor Oleksandr Dziouba overlooking a hillside. Dziouba stated there are more trees than people in his city. He said it as a matter of pride, according to Bindelglass.

Bindelglass was suddenly reminded of home.

“I said that's the most Easton thing to say that I've ever heard from anybody outside of Easton,” Bindelglass said.

Westport isn’t the only municipality to have a sister city in Ukraine. Stamford also recently announced a sister city agreement with Kramatorsk, which was devastated by a Russian missile strike in 2022.

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