San Jose could split from Russian sister city
San Jose City Hall lit up with the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine's flag. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Councilmember Sylvia Arenas is recommending San Jose break with its sister city in Russia, adding its voice to international efforts to isolate the country over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Her proposal will be heard by the City Council in the near future.

    “Ending our city’s formal diplomatic relationship with Russia’s municipal government in Ekaterinburg sends a clear message,” Arenas said in a statement.

    A sister city is a longterm partnership between two communities in two countries, according to Sister Cities International. Sister cities were initially created in the 1950s to foster peace, but can also promote tourism, trade, educational and cultural exchanges and projects. San Jose has at least 8 sister cities, including Okayama, Japan and Dublin, Ireland.

    San Jose is joining the state and federal government by standing in solidarity with Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion. City Hall is lit in the now familiar blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and will remain so through March 6.

    Arenas’ proposal also directs San Jose’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to advocate for further sanctions on Russia and to provide military supplies to Ukraine.

    “We have all watched in horror as Vladimir Putin and the Russian government unleashed unspeakable terror upon a peaceful nation,” Arenas said, “whose sole mistake appears to be yearning for freedom while living near the Russian border.”

    Ukrainian forces continue to fight Russian invaders nearly a week into the conflict. National media reports say a Russian military convoy north of the capital of Kyiv stretches approximately 40 miles.

    San Jose has already adopted two of Arenas’ requests: for City Hall to be lit in blue and yellow and for the city to support and coordinate with San Jose’s Ukrainian community. San Jose is home to more than 4,000 Ukrainian people. More than 20,000 Ukrainians live in the Bay Area.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said San Jose stands with the people of Ukraine who are suffering unimaginable atrocities and fighting for their freedom. San Jose’s Office of Racial Equity is collaborating with the Red Cross, Ukrainian Consulate in San Francisco and Ukrainian immigrant-led nonprofits and faith-based groups.

    “We pray for the strength and safety of our Ukrainian neighbors and refugees during this critical time,” Liccardo said in a statement.

    Nova Ukraine, a nonprofit headquartered in Palo Alto, is raising awareness about the conflict and providing humanitarian aid.

    “Even months from now, Ukraine will need support,” Director Igor Markov told San José Spotlight. “So many family members suffered. We want to make sure people with relatives and with Ukrainian roots feel they’re not forgotten… and that Silicon Valley stands with Ukraine.”

    Markov said there’s been fighting and bombing where his aunt and uncle live in Ukraine. Air sirens go off regularly to keep them on alert.

    “It’s unbelievable,” he said.

    State Sens. Mike McGuire and Dave Cortese co-authored legislation aimed at adding financial pressure on Russia by divesting state public funds from the country following the unprovoked war.

    “We all must mobilize to stop Russia in its tracks,” McGuire said in a statement. “California has unique and remarkable economic power in this circumstance. As the fifth largest economy in the world, we must use this power for good.”

    The bill calls on state agencies, including pension funds CalPERS and CalSTRS, to immediately divest from Russian assets. California has more than $1 billion in Russian investments primarily in its pension funds, according to a statement. Legislators are also asking private companies based in California to divest their investments in the Russian economy, and they will block awarding state contracts to any company that is conducting business with Russia.

    Cortese, chair of the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee, said in a statement the state has a responsibility to ensure it’s not fueling this global crisis that has caused tremendous human suffering. He said the state is following the foreign policy lead of the national government to divest and freeze assets. Cortese would like state financial and security businesses to follow suit, and divest their assets from Russia.

    “The state has I think as much a reputation as any state or nation in the world to stand for freedom, human rights and democracy,” he told San José Spotlight.“It’s really important for us to make a statement.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

    To donate or get help, contact:

    • The Ukrainian Consulate General in San Francisco at (415) 398-0240 or by email: [email protected]
    • For Ukrainian refugees overseas: UNHCR has set up dedicated pages in English, Ukrainian and Russian for refugees in Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, as well as those who may be elsewhere in the world.
    • For individuals who have lost contact with a family member in Ukraine: The American Red Cross is accepting International Reconnecting Families Inquiry Forms
    • For donations to support Ukraine: Local Ukrainian-led nonprofit Nova Ukraine is fundraising to provide humanitarian assistance.
    • For faith-based assistance for the Ukrainian community: St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Catholic Mission in Santa Clara can be reached at (415) 468-2601.
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