JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – The head of the Jacksonville Sister Cities Association told News4JAX on Tuesday that while the partnership between the cities of Jacksonville, Fla., and Murmansk, Russia, has been “dormant” since 2017, the preservation of their “sister city must be maintained.
“We are beyond government,” said JSCA President Brenda Frinks. “We are at the basic level of citizen diplomacy, one individual one community at a time. We are still friends with the Russian community here. We always want them to know that they are part of the Jacksonville community, that they are upstanding citizens there — and we want them to realize that we consider them citizens of the Jacksonville community, just like the rest of the world, they don’t condone what the Russian president has done.
The statements followed News4JAX’s broadcast of a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he specifically recommended that the city of Jacksonville, as well as other US cities, maintain official ties with cities in Russia. .
“What do these connections bring you? Maybe nothing. But they give Russia the opportunity to say, even after the start of such a war, that it is not isolated,” Zelensky said in his speech.
After this News4JAX report, the JSCA updated the link to the Murmansk webpage on its website, removing the featured photo and adding a disclaimer that read “Status dormant since 2017.”
The site’s page on Murmansk was also updated with a disclaimer explaining: “This relationship has been dormant with Musmansk since 2017. All activity has focused on members of the Russian community living in Jacksonville who support our motto of peace through people. No aid has been sent or received from Murmansk since 2017.”
The JSCA is a local chapter of Sister Cities International, which issued a statement in response to the invasion of Ukraine, discouraging members from suspending or canceling partnerships with Russian cities.
“Although suspending or ending a relationship with a sister city to register disapproval of the actions of a foreign government may seem, at first glance, like positive political protest action, it has the completely opposite effect – shut down a vital and, often, last communication channel with vulnerable or isolated populations,” the memo reads. “As a result, we re-emphasize and emphasize that our policy remains to encourage our members and American communities to keep their relationships with sister cities, especially now that the political issues and actions of the day threaten to disrupt the positive and constructive relationships that have been achieved, over many years, at the interpersonal and intercommunity levels.
But Ukraine’s president said “sister city” status legitimizes Russia and signals to its people that the United States is still willing to maintain a long-term relationship with the nation despite its hostile actions toward a sovereign nation.
“Don’t help [Russia] justify themselves,” Zelensky said in the video speech. “Don’t keep ties with him – and please don’t allow those who have become murderers to call you brothers and sisters.”
Zelensky reported that 3,620 Ukrainian settlements have been occupied by Russia since the start of the invasion on February 24.
Jacksonville is set to host Sister Cities International’s Southeast Conference July 19-22, with delegations from several states and at least four nations expected. Frinks said no delegation from Russia was invited.
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