Sonoma’s Sister Cities group wins award for aid to Kaniv, Ukraine
The Sonoma Sister Cities Association has received an international award for providing humanitarian assistance to Kaniv, Ukraine, one of Sonoma’s sister cities.
Sister Cities International announced at its annual business meeting on Friday, July 28 that Sonoma Sister Cities Association’s Kaniv committee won one of its three 2023 Innovation in Humanitarian Assistance Awards. The Kaniv committee, which won in the category for cities with a population of less than 25,000, will receive an engraved, personalized award for the achievement.
“We are very happy because the Kaniv committee has worked hard to sponsor events that both raise awareness of our Ukrainian sister city and raise funds for them,” said Kaeti Bailie, chair of the committee who in March was named Sonoma County’s Woman of the Year by state Sen. Bill Dodd for helping to bring humanitarian aid to residents of Kaniv.
These fundraising events have included a Ukrainian film event at Sebastiani Theatre, a meal at Sonoma Community Center, the Fun & Funk music and dinner fundraiser at El Verano Inn and a barbecue dinner provided by Sonoma Valley Rotary.
“To date, we have been able to send Kaniv $133,000 for humanitarian aid,” Bailie said.
The Sonoma City Council formally recognized the award at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Ukranian Anatolyi Leontyev, president of the Kaniv/Ukraine Friendship Society, and wife Luby Leontyev, a retired teacher, were introduced at the meeting.
Kaniv is located about 90 miles south of Kyiv on the Dnieper River. The city, with a population of around 29,000 people, is home to a large hydroelectric plant that was bombed but not destroyed during Russia’s ongoing invasion, which began in February 2022.
“Kaniv is under constant threat and missiles are shot down over Kaniv daily,” Bailie said.
The money raised by the Sonoma Sister Cities Association benefits the Kaniv/Ukraine Friendship Society, which works directly with the city of Kaniv. The funds have been used to provide housing, medical assistance, clothing and food for some 4,500 war refugees who have either lost their homes or are journeying to other, safer locations.
“They have also provided protective gear and medical supplies for the regional armed forces,” Bailie said.
Sonoma Sister Cities Association’s Kaniv committee is now concentrating on providing more humanitarian aid for the city.
“We are helping them apply for grants from USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) that are focused on helping support business and free enterprise in Ukraine during and after the war,” Bailie said. “We are also focused on working with other U.S. organizations focused on providing aid during the war.”
The committee was recently given a large shipment of 13 boxes of Bombas socks and underwear, which it sent to the volunteer center in Kaniv that is responsible for helping the displaced refugees.
Baile said her commission will continue to raise awareness about the needs of Kaniv’s people.
“We have worked in conjunction with various local organizations and will continue to work together on fundraising events,” she said. “The Sonoma Valley Rotary Club has been particularly generous with their time and money. We have encouraged Kaniv to organize a Rotary club and work with the regional Ukrainian Rotary clubs and the Rotary clubs in Sonoma and Santa Rosa.”
Sonoma’s relationship with Kaniv dates back to 1985, when Ukraine was considered a republic and part of the Soviet Union. A group of Sonomans, concerned about the nuclear arms race, decided to initiate citizen-diplomacy contact with the Soviet Union.
“We chose Kaniv because it is the home of Ukrainian national poet Taras Schevchenko and Sonoma is the home of writer Jack London,” Bailie said. “The Sonoma City Council approved the idea and we made the initial contact when I took a letter from the City of Sonoma proposing a sister city relationship.”
In 1987, a Sonoma delegation of 21 people — including Nancy Parmalee, then the mayor — traveled to Kaniv and signed the official sister city agreement. Through this agreement, several delegations of Sonoma students and citizens have traveled to Kaniv over the years and many have developed close relationships with its people.
Bailie has been inspired by how Kaniv residents have dealt with the Russian invasion.
“Human rights and our common humanity are the first things to go in war,” she said. “I have been impressed by the strength, compassion and dignity that the people of Ukraine, and more personally, the people of Kaniv, have displayed under the most heinous circumstances.”
She noted that former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who founded Sister Cities International in 1956, experienced firsthand the horrors of war during World War II.
“He came to believe that only when ordinary people get to know each other personally would war be averted,” she said. “This is the foundational principle behind Sister Cities International … and this was the founding principal of the Sonoma Sister Cities Association when we made our first overture to Kaniv in 1985.”
Sister Cities International’s annual awards program was established in 1962 to recognize the achievements of sister cities and their contributions to the citizen diplomacy movement.
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.