Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass joined the Mayor and Police Chief of Westport US in an historic visit to Easton's Sister City of Sviatohirsk on May 21. The tour, the first-ever delegation of US officials at any level to set foot in the liberated territories in Donetsk, was designed to foster a new era of cross-cultural collaboration and was organized by Ukraine Aid International, an American nonprofit that has operated on the front lines of the Ukraine conflict delivering humanitarian aid since April 2022.
Easton and Sviatohirsk, a small rural farming community, became sister cities earlier this year in March as part of a UAI Sister Cities Initiative to support and rebuild the most devastated communities in Ukraine, particularly focusing on the liberated villages along the the front line in the Donetsk Oblast.
In Sviatohirsk, Bindelglass met with his counterpart Mayor Ribalkin and they toured areas of the city that had been devastated by war, witnessing firsthand the destruction of schools and the bombing of railways and municipal buildings.
"Sviatohirsk and Easton are so much alike," said Bindelglass. 'When Mayor Rybalkin mentioned they had more trees than people, it was like being home in Easton, such an Easton thing to say. We really shared a kinship. He is a remarkable leader and I really admire him. I'm in awe of at the way he is managing his town in the face of such horrific destruction. His ingenuity and calm are amazing."
Bindelglass said travelling to Ukraine was an amazing experience. "The degree of destruction I witnessed was incredible. Bridges are collapsed and sides of buildings are blown out so that you can see right into living spaces. And in our sister city there were abandoned Russian tanks parked in people’s back yards."
He continued, "The relief workers from Ukraine Aid International show such bravery delivering aid in the warzone. Sviatohorsk is close enough to the front that you can hear artillery fire, and yet they carry on. And the calm and ingenuity of the people in the midst of their rebuilding efforts was something to see. In the midst of this chaos folks were so grateful for our visit---their hospitality was unmatched. In Lyman where most of the city is in ruins, they put out an amazing spread of homemade food for us."
Bindelglass said that the people he met expressed their gratitude again and again for the visit and for Easton's support of them.
"They have no doubt that their country will be victorious and that they will rebuild. They are so appreciative of our help but they cannot wait for things to return to normal so that we can build a permanent relationship between our towns that includes cultural exchanges to foster mutual understanding."
Sviatohirsk, a small town of 5,000 residents located in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, was occupied by Russian forces beginning in June 2022. Ukraine retook the city that September, but the occupation left the town devastated. Through its Sister City Initiative Easton aims to raise funds to to provide urgent financial assistance to Sviatohirsk, where residents are in dire need of medical supplies, food, clothing, municipal equipment and shelter. Many parts of the city are completely destroyed.
Tax deductible donations for the "Building Bridges: Easton and Sviatohirsk" campaign can be made by visiting www.UkraineAidInternational.org/donate and donors can designate the "Easton - Sviatohirsk Sister City" option.