BREAKING NEWS

Jacksonville’s sister city organization defends connection to Russian city amid criticism from Ukrainian president

‘No support has been sent to or received from Murmansk since 2017,’ website notes

Murmansk, Russia & Jacksonville, Florida. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The head of the Jacksonville Sister Cities Association told News4JAX Tuesday that even though the partnership between the cities of Jacksonville, Florida and Murmansk, Russia has been ‘dormant’ since 2017, the preservation of their ‘sister city’ should be upheld.

“We are beyond government,” Brenda Frinks, president of the JSCA, said. “We are at the ground level of citizen diplomacy, one individual one community at a time. We are still friends with the Russian community here. We still want them to know that they are a part of the Jacksonville community, that there they are upstanding citizens -- and we want them to realize that we embrace them as citizens of the Jacksonville community, just like the rest of the world, they do not condone what the Russian president has done.”

Jacksonville sister cities (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The statements followed News4JAX reporting of a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he specifically admonished the city of Jacksonville, as well as other U.S. cities, for maintaining official ties to cities in Russia.

“What do these connections give you? Perhaps nothing. But they give Russia the opportunity to say, even after the beginning of such a war that it is not isolated,” Zelensky said in the address.

After that News4JAX report, the JSCA updated the link to the Murmansk webpage on its website, removing the featured photo and adding a disclaimer saying, “Dormant Status Since 2017.”

The site’s page about Murmansk was also updated with a disclaimer explaining: “This relationship has been dormant with Musmansk since 2017. All activities have centered around the Russian community members living in Jacksonville who support our Motto of Peace through People. No support has been sent to or received from Murmansk since 2017.”

The head of the Jacksonville Sister Cities Association told News4JAX Tuesday that even though the partnership between the cities of Jacksonville, Florida and Murmansk, Russia has been ‘dormant’ since 2017, the preservation of their ‘sister city’ should be upheld.

The JSCA is a local chapter of Sister Cities International, which released a statement in response to the invasion of Ukraine, discouraging members from suspending or canceling partnerships with Russian cities.

“While suspending or ending a sister city relationship to register disapproval of a foreign government’s actions may seem, on the surface, like a positive policy protest action, it has the complete opposite effect – closing a vital and, ofttimes, last channel of communication with vulnerable or isolated populations,” the memo said. “As a result, we reemphasize and underscore that our policy remains to encourage our members and U.S. communities to keep their sister city relationship active, especially now when the political issues and actions of the day threaten to disrupt the positive, constructive relationships that have been made, over many years, at the people-to-people and community-to-community levels.”

But Ukraine’s president said the “sister city” status legitimizes Russia and communicates to its people that the U.S. is still willing to maintain a good-term relationship with the nation despite its hostile actions toward a sovereign nation.

“Don’t help [Russia] justify itself,” Zelensky said in the video address. “Don’t maintain ties with it - and please do not allow those who have become murderers to call you their brothers and sisters.”

Zelensky reported that 3,620 of Ukraine’s settlements have been occupied by Russia since the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Jacksonville is poised to host Sister Cities International’s southeast conference on July 19-22, with delegations from multiple states and at least four nations expected to attend. Frinks said no delegation from Russia was invited.

Jacksonville sister cities (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

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