Roman Klichuk, the mayor of Chernivtsi, Ukraine, speaks via video to Salt Lake City leaders Tuesday. The two cities have been connected through the Sister Cities program since 1989. (Salt Lake City)
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SALT LAKE CITY — As the violence and destruction amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, members of the Salt Lake City Council were almost brought to tears Tuesday as they watched a video update from the mayor of their sister city in Ukraine.
Roman Klichuk, the mayor of Chernivtsi, a tourist-heavy city of over 250,000 on the country’s western border, appeared stern in the 2-minute video as he described the events happening across the country. But he is appreciative of the support the country sees from all over the world, including Salt Lake City.
“We have united, and everyone is helping in the joint battle for freedom, not only in Ukraine but in the whole Europe. And in this war, we are not alone,” Klichuk said in the video to Salt Lake City leaders. “Therefore, we are sincerely grateful to each of you for support and help. … Your support gives us confidence today, and official cooperation holds a promise for a better future.”
The two sides got in touch over the weekend, when Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy reached out. As the fighting broke out, he wanted to know if there was any connection between the city and any Ukrainian municipality — and if there were ways to help out.
To his surprise, he noticed a few days ago that Salt Lake City and Chernivtsi became sisters in 1989, through the organization Sister Cities International. The two cities have remained in touch at times through the past 33 years, including representatives from both cities visiting the other side not long after they signed the charter.
This relationship created financial support in the past. Utah leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would go on to send financial support and humanitarian aid to the city, especially in the years after the Chernobyl disaster because it had affected children in Chernivtsi, Puy explained.
“The ties between these two cities are very deep, they run very deep,” he said. “After 33 years, I believe they are still there.”
Despite the ties, they had fallen out of contact for a while. Puy explained he didn’t want to check in because of politics or anything like that. He just wanted to check in “as a human,” especially as a representative of a sibling city.
Given the time between contact, he added the Chernivtsi municipal government was about as surprised to hear from him as he was when he found the connection.
Sister cities are far from the minds of Klichuk or anyone else by Chernivtsi. Given its location, it’s not at the center of many of the attacks so far, but it’s where tens of thousands of families have fled before going across the western border to other countries, according to news reports from the past few weeks. Turkey even moved its embassy from Kyiv to Chernivtsi as the conflict continues.
The ties between these two cities are very deep, they run very deep. After 33 years, I believe they are still there.
–Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy
As Klichuk put it, Chernivtsi is “almost one of the few cities in Ukraine that haven’t suffered from the Russian occupiers” to date. As such, it’s turned into a “huge volunteer hub” for the families fleeing from the carnage.
In his video to the Salt Lake City Council, Klichuk cut to the chase, letting Salt Lake leaders know how their sister city is doing amid the invasion.
“The war came to our houses. … The big cities in the country are now devastated,” he said. “The occupiers stop at nothing: they strike schools, kindergartens and even hospitals. This war is without any rules.”
While the scene is difficult, he remains optimistic about the future, which he believes will remain “free.” Klichuk added that everyone in Ukraine has found a way to help, whether through destroying war equipment or breaking through misinformation spread online.
“Every Ukrainian has become a defender of his land. Those people who have been living abroad for a long time are coming back to defend Ukraine,” he continued. “People stop the columns of the Russian occupiers just with flags and singing the anthem.”
The Ukrainian mayor concluded his message hopeful that one day Chernivtsi and Ukraine can quickly end the fighting and return to the nation it was before the invasion. He added that will likely require help and assistance from throughout the globe, but also from communities like its sister, Salt Lake City.
“We want to be a cozy European city with a rich history again,” he said. “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Thanks!”
Since the invasion began last month, thousands of Utahns have participated in demonstrations and vigils in an effort to show solidarity with the affected people in Ukraine. The Utah State Capitol and the Walker Center in Salt Lake City are among the Utah buildings that have been lit up in the colors of the Ukraine flag.
They’ve also set up charitable funds or donated to causes that help Ukraine.
The Salt Lake City government is still in the process of determining what is needed and how the city can deliver the needed supplies, according to Rachel Otto, the chief of staff for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office.
At this point, she believes the most productive thing is to donate money to approved local, national and global organizations that are already doing the work to get supplies to Ukraine given how difficult it is to airlift supplies at the moment.
But it was clear that Klichuk’s message resonated with the council Tuesday. Council Chairman Dan Dugan started choking up shortly after the video ended, and as he reflected on his experience in Ukraine as part of a peace program two decades ago.
“I know they’re proud, they’re resilient, they’re strong and (have) a big heart, so we stand with you during these troubled times,” he said. “Stay strong, keep the faith.”
The connection also rubbed off on Puy, who set up the connection.
He said Tuesday that he can’t imagine what it’s like trying to run a city during a crisis like what Chernivtsi is going through at the moment, between accepting tens of thousands of people all at once while also dealing with the threat of future destruction.
“They are fighting for their (lives),” Puy said. “It is my hope that many people in our city can support the people of (Chernivtsi), that we have such close relationship with.”
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