The town of Kent is reaching out in friendship halfway around the world… to war-torn Ukraine.
Kent maintains active relationships with sister cities in Norway, Japan and China. In non-pandemic years, student exchange groups and municipal leaders from Kent will visit Sister Towns in Kent and vice versa.
This is all part of the goal of the Sister Cities program, which was created by President Eisenhower in 1956 to foster understanding between different cultures.
But Kent’s new sister will be in a country we’ve all had our eyes on this year: Ukraine.
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Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said that prior to this year, the city had begun to consider a sister city relationship in Ukraine, as Kent has a large Ukrainian immigrant population.
“Immigrants from Ukraine were among the very first immigrant population in Kent,” Ralph said. “They are still a very large part of our community. So we have a long history there.
Kent chose the town of Lutsk, Ukraine – a town of 200,000 people in northwestern Ukraine – because many Ukrainian immigrants from Kent once called Lutsk home. The town is different from Kent in many ways, but Ralph said the most important things remain the same.
“It’s a more populated city and obviously a much older city,” Ralph said. “But I think values and a desire to be part of something, community and family and all of those things are really key.”
With the pandemic fading enough to allow travel, plans have been made for the mayor of Lutsk to travel to Kent. But just before the trip, everything changed.
“We had scheduled time for the mayor of Lutsk to come and visit Kent, to talk about a sister city relationship,” Ralph said. “And then, with the war breaking out literally days before this tour was supposed to start, we put that on hold.”
Lutsk is close to Poland and not directly attacked at the moment – although it saw bombs earlier in the war. Like those who live in all other Ukrainian cities, the world of the inhabitants of Lutsk has turned upside down.
” I can not imagine. I can’t imagine being the mayor of a town that went from just fine to being attacked in a matter of days,” Ralph said.
Ralph said that many residents of Lutsk went to fight the Russians and the whole city is engaged in the war effort.
“I was doing my research, I was researching and I thought it was just an amazing city,” she said. “And what we can pray for is that the damage is not significant to this amazing architecture and its history.”
Kent is also doing his part. Kent is a place where refugees often settle – like some of the Afghan refugees last year – and now Kent is ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms. Like other towns in the region, Kent is working with the Consulate General of Ukraine and local Ukrainian churches to help gather supplies and support for Ukraine.
Over the past few months, Ralph and the Kent City Government have remained in close contact with Lutsk leaders.
Finally, last week Ralph and Council Chairman Bill Boyce were able to meet with Lutsk Mayor Ihor Polishchuk on Zoom to sign a memorandum to pursue a sister city relationship.
The meeting was not entirely virtual – Lutsk City Council member Roman Kravchuk traveled to Kent to be there in person.
Both cities look forward to a post-war era when they can once again host student and municipal government exchanges.
“It was really encouraging to hear their hope and positivity, and that part of their desire to build this relationship was really looking forward to what it means when the war is over and how do we support each other and learn about them. each other,” Ralph said.
But in the meantime, Ralph hopes the bond between the sister cities can be a symbol of friendship and peace in the face of war.
“This is to send a message to our Ukrainian residents that we are here, that we are with you and that we want to help you through this time with your family who are still in Ukraine,” Ralph said.
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