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Council to vote on suspending Russian link

Tuesday, 1 March 2022 13:14

By Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter. Additional reporting by Philip Churm, LDR

Ukraine vigil, held by council leader Phil Bialyk (centre)

Exeter leader has family in Ukraine

Exeter councillors will be asked to suspend the city’s link with its Russian twin next week.

Since 1990, the Devon capital has been twinned with Yaroslavl, which is 160 miles north-east of Moscow and home to over half-a-million people. The link includes exchange trips usually held every other year.

Last week, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a spokesperson for Exeter City Council said there were “currently no plans to alter Exeter’s twinning link with Yaroslavl.”

However, city council leader Phil Bialyk, who has family in Ukraine and organised a vigil for the country’s citizens at the weekend, will now ask the council to suspend the city’s “civic relationship with Yaroslavl.”

It comes after Glasgow councillors voted to suspend their link with Russian city Rostov-on-Don after news broke of the attack on Ukraine.

Speaking at Monday’s executive meeting, Cllr Bialyk highlighted measures he has taken since the crisis began, including writing to the home secretary to say Exeter is ready to support Ukrainian refugees forced to flee the country.

Cllr Bialyk said: “I am proud of my Ukrainian heritage and so you will not be surprised to hear that I have watched the unfolding news of the Russian government’s invasion with horror.

“I cannot stand quietly by and do nothing and so I wish to raise an urgent item for consideration at this evening’s meeting relating to the city’s on-going relationship with its Russian twinned city of Yaroslavl.

“I have thought long and hard about this, particularly bearing in mind the friendship and good relationships we have enjoyed with the people in Yaroslavl. However, I cannot condone the actions of the Russian government.”

Cllr Bialyk said he would be recommending the following to the full council when it meets on Thursday, 10 March:

  • That Exeter stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and the council agrees to immediately suspend its civic relationship with Yaroslavl
  • That it be noted that the leader of the council has written to Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom offering the city’s support for the people of the Ukraine in these difficult times
  • That it be noted that the leader of the council has written to the home secretary advising her that Exeter has always been a city which welcomes refugees from all over the world in their hour of need, and it would support the acceptance of Ukrainian refugees and urges the UK government to consider an urgent review into the criteria to be applied to those Ukrainian citizens who are seeking asylum in the UK
  • That appropriate arrangements be made, in cooperation with Inclusive Exeter, to extend and engage support for the Ukrainian community in Exeter

While Exeter appears to have shifted on pausing its Russian link, Plymouth City Council has indicated that it will not break off ties with Novorossiysk, the Russian port city on the Black Sea.

A spokesperson for Plymouth City Council said last week: “Following the Novichok poisoning on UK soil in March 2018, Plymouth City Council agreed to revoke any invitations to Russian officials.

“However, we have no immediate plans to rescind our friendship with the people of Novorossiysk, our twin city, and punish them for the barbaric actions of their government.”

The city’s iconic Smeaton’s Tower was lit up in yellow and blue on Thursday, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, while the council has condemned Russia’s attack.

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