Oleksandra Fedoruk: PART OF UKRAINE’S TRANSFORMATION

WHEN: 6 June 2015

WHERE: at the home of Andrij Tsintsiruk in Arlington, Virginia

INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski

Q: Thanks very much for taking the time from your busy schedule in the United States to speak with us, Oleksandra. It is because you represent the dynamic engagement of our communities that we wanted to gain some insight into Arlington’s newest sister-city partner. Though fully aware of the special challenges confronting Ukraine just now, we want to use this opportunity to understand the texture of life in Ivano-Frankivsk. Our oral history project seeks to accomplish that in a series of personal conversations. So I will start by asking you about your family’s experience, starting with you. Tell us when and where you were born and something about your early experience.

 

OF: I was born on the 13th of December 1975 in the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. I came from an ordinary family. I started school when I was six. When I finished, I entered the Precarpathian  University in Ivano-Frankivsk, studying English language and literature.

 

Q: How old were you?

 

OF: I was 18.

 

Q: Typically, how long does a person study in Ukraine.

 

OF: It is a five year program. In my last year, at age 21, I married Pavlo Fedoruk. My maiden name was Grygoruk. Not long after that I had my first daughter, Anastasiia Fedoruk.

 

Q: You have given us a sweeping summary of half your life. Let’s unpack some of your experience. Born in 1975, you were 16 years old when Ukraine achieved its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Tell us what it was like to live under the Soviet regime.

 

OF: We had an ordinary life in Ukraine. I was happy in my family. I went to school every day. I had many friends at school and where we lived. The family took summer vacations. One memory is the grief experienced when news of Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev died [1982]—everyone cried. [Brezhnev was born in east-central Ukraine and rose to the leadership of the USSR by way of an engineering career]. It happened when I was in the first grade at school. The news came via TV. So I wouldn’t say that Soviet times were bad for me. I was a kid and I had friends.

 

Q: You were probably too young to notice the effects of Soviet leadership changes after Brezhnev.

 

OF: From my point of view as a teenager things seemed to change for the worse. I was aware of a ruinous decline of economic well-being. My parents were not affected much, because they had good jobs, but many families were affected by the loss of their jobs. Life got very challenging for many; there was no money, no work. The old system had ceased to function, but the new rules had not yet taken hold. These were difficult times for the Ukrainian people.

 

Q: Let’s return to your family.

 

OF: My parents were fortunate. They had good jobs. They worked in the energy sector for oil and gas companies.

 

Q: What was their training?

 

OF: They were engineers. My mom was trained as an economist and became an accountant in the energy sector. My dad was an engineer who worked in oil and gas. He had an engineering degree from the university in Ivano-Frankivsk. This training and this university were very popular in the 1970s when they studied. They both graduated from the Oil and Gas University. It was one of three universities in the USSR (Soviet Union) focusing on this industry, reflecting the importance of this resource in the Soviet economy.

 

Q: Do you remember your grandparents?

 

OF: Sure! On my father’s side, the family came from Manyava village in the Carpathian mountains. They are a specific ethnic group, the Gutsuls (Hutsuls). My father came from the village of Markovo. It is close to the Manyavsky Monastery, a place of great historical significance. It dates to the period of the Kieven Rus’ more than a thousand years ago. The religious withdrew to that place during an invasion, because of persecution of the church. It became a cradle of culture as well as economic development. Many books were written there. The surrounding landscape is breath-taking in its beauty. My father’s family was a big one; there were seven children. That was normal at the time.

 

My mom comes from Ivano-Frankivsk originally. She attended the university, studied economics and became an accountant in the oil and gas industry.  Growing up, she had two siblings, both sisters. Her father was a millner, producing flour. Her mother grew up in a well to do family and didn’t have to work a day in her life. The reason: my great grandfather on that side was a soldier in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, serving during the first world war.  He went missing and his mother was paid survivor’s benefits. When he finally returned home, he collected that nest egg and married. He was then able to buy land and start farming. They prospered in the 1920s and my grandmother was born. My grandmother attended a Polish school when she was growing up. They lived in the Galicia partition of Poland, which was restored to Poland after WWI, so they were outside the Soviet Union. Due to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939, which led to the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, the western, Galician part of Ukraine, where my mother’s family had their farm, became part of the Soviet Union in 1939 and then again in 1944 or during WWII.

 

Q: And your grandmom was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, then in Poland, and I think it had a different name at the time.

 

OF: That’s right. The city was then called Stanisławiw, named after the son of the Polish magnate who planned the city and endowed it with its architectural landmarks. The magnate, Potocki, was a member of the nobility, “schlachta”—a wealthy man who built extensively, including castles and palaces in Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and elsewhere in the region.  Stanisławiw was built as a fortress in a pentagonal pattern. Parts of the walls remain. We now have a visitors center located at one of its angular projections. The settlement was traditional: Ukrainian peasants lived outside the fortress and came inside daily to work.

 

Q: What I understand from our conversation is that your mother’s family thrived—they were doing very well.

 

OF: My great-grandfather was a farmer. He had horses. He donated the funds to have a church built in the village.

 

Q: What was the church’s denomination?

 

OF: Tt was a Greek Catholic church as were most Ukrainians living in Halychyna prior to 1939. Greek is designated as the source of origin of eastern or Byzantine Catholicism. It was an Orthodox church in the Greek-Catholic tradition specific to this region. The tradition was passed down through the generations. My mother is still Greek-Catholic—not affiliated with the Orthodox Church governed from Kyiv.

 

Q: The second world war brought big changes—western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union and your family became Soviet citizen.

 

OF: From my grandfather I have heard terrible stories about the situation during the war. Although we were spared the destruction that comes with pitched battles, no one knew which of the several contestants for western Ukraine would be in our village on any given day. One day, it was the Germans; then the Soviets, then members of the UPA, Ukrainian Insurgent Army from time to time. For normal people it was a terrible time. Troops would show up and confiscate crops, horses, or worse.

 

Q: So, what did people do?

 

OF: It was war. They simply had to get used to it. There was no escape. They simply tried to survive.

 

Q: Ultimately, western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union.

 

OF: When the Soviets came, they confiscated almost all our land, leaving only a small patch near the house to grow vegetables for the family. We know that some of the people my grandfather employed on the farm emigrated—more correctly fled and slowly found their way to, America. My grandmother told me they are living near Philadelphia.

 

Q: Have you met them?

 

OF: No. In Soviet times, you were not allowed to communicate with someone abroad. When my grandmother married my grandfather, they moved to Ivano-Frankivsk and built a house there. So, my mother was born in Ivano-Frankivsk. The land on which the house was built used to be part of the Jewish ghetto. Jews from Ivano-Frankivsk had been rounded up and slaughtered in a nearby forest. While clearing the lot for the house, a box was unearthed containing plates and cups—china-ware and Murano glasses, buried there, we surmise, by the Jewish family who had lived there.

 

Q: How did your mom and dad find each other?

 

OF: After graduating from university, job assignments brought each of them separately to the Poltava region in the eastern part of Ukraine. So, they met and married in Poltava, where they spent the first years of their married lives.

 

Q: Was that a petroleum area?

 

OF: Yes, there was a major gas field there. But my grandmother asked my parents to return to Ivano-Frankivsk, which they eventually did—in time for me to be born there.

 

Q: So you grew up in Ivano-Frankivsk. What was it like to experience independence of Ukraine—you must have been 16 when that happened in 1991.

 

OF: We understood that it was an important time for the country. As part of the western part of Ukraine, there were fewer Russians. The whole region was not as assimilated to the Soviet system as other areas of Ukraine. Ukrainian traditions survived. My parents still attended church. That was generally forbidden in Soviet times, especially if you were a Communist party member or a member of the Komsomol. Holiday traditions, for example Christmas and Easter, are still kept in my family and this is typical of western Ukraine, but not of the eastern part of the country, which endured an extra generation under Soviet rule. There had been a rich Ukrainian cultural heritage in the east, but it was wiped out by the Holodomor of the early 1930s. In 1933 Ukrainians were decimated in a deliberate act of public policy. A recent film deals with this tragic episode and was screened here in Washington DC in the past month or two with English translation. So, in the early 1930s a rich crop of grain was confiscated by the Communists; farmers who were suspected of resisting were shot; the population was left to starve. Millions perished. The center of this devastation is the same region now engulfed by war—Donetsk, Luhansk. When the mass dying was accomplished, Soviet authorities moved Russians from elsewhere in the Soviet Union into the depopulated territory.  That region is endowed with coal, so the Russians were moved in to work in the mines. The experience in our part of Ukraine was quite different. The dividing line was defined by the Dnieper River. My grandmother told me that the family heard that terrible things were happening across the border in the Ukrainian Soviet Union, but there was no way to get a clear picture, much less to help the victims.

 

Q: When you were growing up there were things happening that, perhaps, had an impact on the revival of Ukrainian identity. I am thinking of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986. Do you remember anything about that event?

 

OF: Yes. I was a schoolgirl. It was an ordinary day. After school, I used to like to do my homework outside. It was springtime. I was reading a book outdoors when my mom called for me: “where are you?” “I’m outside.” “Come inside. Close the windows. Something has happened. There is radiation danger. You can’t stay outside.” As we learned, critical information about the danger was held back by the authorities at first. Days passed before we got it. At first, people were confused. “Radiation” did not compute. Again, our region was lucky—the winds blew the airborne radioactive isotopes in other directions. This happened just before the first day of May, when in the Soviet Union (Communist party states) there are massive celebrations and thousands of people are in the open, on the streets in parades. It rained that day, bringing the isotopes out of the sky onto the unsuspecting people.

 

Q: The Chernobyl melt-down and explosions and radioactive releases affected large parts of Europe. I remember it well, as I was with my family in Denmark at the time. All the children were told to stay inside, sandboxes were emptied, crops were ploughed under, Iodine flew off the shelves of the apothecaries. For years afterward, citizens in Germany, where I was spending a lot of time, were warned not to eat certain things—like wild mushrooms.

 

Returning to 1991 and independence, what do you remember about that transition?

 

OF: We were very high spirited; there were many demonstrations all over Ivano-Frankivsk. People were on the streets chanting “Slava Ukraini”  Independence was experienced as an unimaginable stroke of good fortune. All over western Ukraine, monuments to Lenin were brought down. I can remember being at a demonstration in the center of Ivano-Frankivsk and witnessing the destruction of the Lenin statue. His statue was replaced by one honoring the poet, Ivan Franko, our city’s namesake. So, we supported independence and our leader, presidential candidate Yaroslav Chornovil, who was killed during an election campaign later in the 1990s running against Leonid Kuchma. Chornovil was the founder of the political party Narodny RuKH (People’s Movement). Today the people of the eastern part of the country have become similarly enthused. Last summer, we met people from Dnipropetrovsk who exhibited the same mood I remember from 1991—very proud of being Ukrainian. Nowadays, we are more focused on sparking economic development. Nationality became important to us in the 1990s in the western regions, while this feeling was subdued in the east. Today, the question of nationality is one for those in the east and we are preoccupied with the goal of increasing our well-being. Because we already have independence, we have moved on to think about jobs and the economy. They, on the other hand, are more concerned about becoming independent. It has taken the brethren in the east until now to understand that we are a nation. It has taken a new generation to become animated by this sense. But we came to realize that the independence we got wasn’t real independence, that we couldn’t have real independence without bloodshed. We are paying now for the deceptive euphoria of the early 1990s. We have been learning that we weren’t really independent from Russia. We are now paying the price for real independence.

 

Q: You are describing a major change of mood.

 

OF: Yes. We are now deciding what we actually want to do with our independence.

 

Q: Twenty years of independence that was apparent only.

 

OF: We lacked a real leader who would act for Ukraine and who could imagine Ukraine looking forward 20, 30, 50 years into the future. The western regions of Ukraine are not so densely populated as the eastern ones and were not as important as the eastern ones in charting Ukraine’s course. Of Ukraine’s 300 voting districts, 200 of them are in the east. The changing mood in the east is decisive.

 

Q: Why didn’t the idea of nationhood take hold? Were people suspicious of nationalist ideas?

 

OF: I think that is part of it. We don’t like extreme nationalists. We are a global people now. We are Ukrainians, we have an identity. But in the east there is some suspicion. Something else: in the west, talking about independence, there was a revival of culture. They gave us culture, but they took the economy. There was a surge of Ukrainian expression—films, poetry, writing, songs, dances in the west.

 

Q: We don’t see many films about Ukraine.

 

OF: They cost money. We haven’t found a way of financing them. In comparison with the east, where industry was concentrated, in the west many plants were closed, unemployment is high, and people left to look for work, often abroad—to Italy, to Portugal, to Poland, to America.

 

Q: The migration has been picked up in the popular culture in Europe. My wife and I are aficionados of detective novels and TV series. One very popular Italian series, Montalbano, is set in Sicily and at least one episode features young Ukrainian women working there.

 

OF: Ukrainians are hard-working and seek out work abroad. Overwhelmingly, they are a net benefit to the economies where they find work. They are talented and well educated.

 

Q: The one film about Ukraine that received notice here in the United States, at least in some circles, Everything is Illuminated (2004), was about a young man’s voyage of discovery of his family’s roots in Ukraine. This Jewish man hires a Ukrainian in Odessa to take him through the countryside in search of missing pieces of the family narrative. They set off from Odessa with his hipster son and mangy, menacing dog in a tiny car in a trip that opens worlds for all three. The author of the eponymous book is the director, Jonathan Foer, who grew up just two miles from where I am living in Northwest Washington DC. By the way, his brother, David, is the author of a well-regarded book, How Soccer Explains the World (2005), which has a chapter on the team, Karpaty Lviv.

 

Let me continue with your experience with defining Ukrainian identity. There were two popular movements in the period since 2000. One of them was what we call the “orange revolution,” associated with the reversal of a presidential election in 2004, and of course, the more recent developments associated with 2014 Maidan demonstrations. These two episodes attracted media coverage in the United States and provided rare windows into Ukraine for us. Talk about them for us.

 

OF: Certain things changed, though in some sense there is less there than meets the eye. There was the recognition of the Ukrainian language. But no one (few) in Kyiv or in the east speaks Ukrainian. Pupils speak Ukrainian in class and when they write their exams, but that’s it. The everyday, working language was Russian. Ukrainian books were very limited. An effort was made to publish more Ukrainian books in the western regions. Despite this, there was a hue and cry about Ukrainian language legislation, as if Russian were somehow to be disadvantaged. The theme again is apparent independence versus the real thing. We had a hard time communicating in our own language in our own country. Politicians broadcast agreeable slogans, but nothing really happened on the ground. So everyone understood that when Yanukovych won the presidential election, we had hit a brick wall. We were going nowhere. No one was doing anything for the future of our kids, the future of our families. We knew that we did not want to converge with Russia. We embraced a global orientation, a western one, with Europe, with the United States. We have nothing against Russia. This complex of sentiments was not well articulated during the Orange Revolution. Maidan 2014-2015 was different—people were ready to give their lives for the idea. We were sure that with Yanukovych Ukraine would have no future. Middle class, middle-aged people were determined to prevail. They were convinced that action was required to defend their right to lead the kind of life they wanted. It was all about establishing a future for their kids.

 

Q: Didn’t former president Kuchma write and publish a book called Ukraine is not Russia? That must be seen as something of an irony in light of developments. While Maidan has underlined the truth of the title, it was written by a person who had very close ties to Russia.

 

OF: I confess I have not read the book and I didn’t want to talk much about politics, about which I am not so well informed. There is a broad sentiment in the land that politics is a waste of time. Kuchma was not so bad for Ukraine, comparatively speaking. He governed when the Russian and Ukrainian economies were still closely stitched together. When the rupture came, we had to scramble to compensate.

 

Q: What, then, does Maidan 2014-2015 symbolize that is different from what came before?

 

OF: Maidan had a simple message: we wanted independence and a better life. Instead, we got aggression to prevent us from trying to achieve it. Without Russian aggression, we would have a much better chance of developing our economy along the lines we prefer. The war on Ukraine Russia pursues is an enormous challenge to us. Our army is not as well equipped.

 

Q: It sounds like you are saying that Ukrainians are being provoked into their sense of nationhood.

 

OF: Yes, indeed. The ridiculous and vicious propaganda claims that Ukraine is being subverted by fascists and that we desire to extinguish the Russian language speak for themselves. We don’t mind people speaking Russian. We also want our children to speak English. Why not? My daughter has a good knowledge of two languages other than Ukrainian already—German and English.

 

Q: How did she learn German?

 

OF: At school. In Ivano-Frankivsk there is a school specializing in German. She excelled to the point of achieving a C1 rating in German—native speaker.

 

Q: You must be very proud of her. Is she in her mid-20s?

 

OF: She is 18. She started university at Kyiv Mohyla. She is studying informatics. She completed school with the highest grade and therefore could attend any university in Ukraine.

 

Q: So you chose Kyiv Mohyla. Why?

 

OF: She was also accepted to the Polytechnic in Kyiv, but preferred Kyiv Mohyla because of its broader, liberal arts curriculum. She also passed the admittance exam for the Technical University of Berlin. She spent the first semester in Kyiv, then moved to Berlin.

 

Q: Thank you for sharing all these insights about your family and the meaning of the Ukrainian experience. Now we have the context for understanding the development of the Arlington-Ivano Frankivsk sister city relationship and Ivano Frankivsk’s sister city relationships more generally. How did they get started?

 

OF: Ivano-Frankivsk has many sister cities—in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Belorussia and more. I think they may have started in the 1970s. As for our relationship with Arlington, one of our board members visited in 2004. It was a peace corps volunteer who helped in introducing him to the mayor and later a young woman by the name of Marianna Olexyn who insisted that he come to Ivano Frankivsk because she knows of a wonderful group of interested people…that is when he met Golovensky, Shvadchak etc. He was affiliated with a government institute and was doing a sort of internship. Oleg_Golovensky is his name. When he was here, his program brought him to Arlington, where he met Chrystia Sonevytsky. They launched a conversation about the possibility of a sister city relationship. He then invited Chrystia to visit Ivano-Frankivsk. During her visit, Oleg convened a group to advance the discussion. Among others, they met with Volodymyr Shvadchak, who was working in a local government office. He liked the idea and gathered others together who agreed to advance the idea. 1:10:05 Oleg Golovensky was running an organization called Cinnamon Beetle, a kind of NGO whose mission is to disseminate local art. So, for example, they published a collection of text and images of Ivano-Frankivsk in the nineteenth century. Another project was on one of our famous painters, Volodymyr Chernyavskiy, who painted Potocki, the founder of the city. The Cinnamon Beetle proved to be a kind of incubator for citizens who wanted to define and increase the city’s profile, so their activists naturally served as the early organizational locus of the dawning sister-city movement for a relationship with Arlington.

 

Q: So, the original enthusiasm for the sister city relationship came not from economic motivations, but from the cultural side.

 

OF: Not exactly. Although Volodymyr Shvadchak was working with Cinnamon Beetle, he also served as vice-governor of the region of Ivano-Frankivsk. Economics, in fact, comprised the central portion of his responsibilities.

 

Q: It was a confluence of the two streams of activity, then?

 

OF: That’s right. It was both. This is evident from the fact that members of Cinnamon Beetle were also local business people. They were not simply artists.

 

The first visit resulted from our invitation to Arlington, when Chrystia came. Some months later, she then returned with a delegation for a second visit. A program was prepared for them featuring tours of the city and its culture. We know that the visit went very well; members of the delegation liked the city and were enthused about the prospects for developing a sister city relationship. Immediately, a discussion was started about framing an agreement of intention as an intermediary step towards full sister-city status. In 2008, a delegation was invited from Ivano-Frankivsk to Arlington. Shortly thereafter, our delegation journeyed to Arlington for the signing of the agreement of intention. We issued a reciprocal invitation for the following May [[2011]] to coincide with Ivano-Frankivsk City Day on May 24th. Among those on the Arlington delegation were [ASCA Chairman] Karl van Newkirk and [Arlington County Board Chairman] Chris Zimmerman. It was then that we signed the sister city agreement.

 

Q: How did you become involved in all of this?

 

OF: Actually, it was my husband who was involved in the initial meetings and first delegation. He was a member of Cinnamon Beetle. My husband’s enthusiasm for the project was contagious and irresistible. I had the added pre-inclination to participate in some way because I was an English-speaking member. I was included in the first delegation in 2009. The whole idea of mutual sharing and learning from each other appealed to me.

 

Q: How did your participation develop?

 

OF: In 2010 I was proposed as the president of our Arlington committee. I couldn’t resist, because I enjoyed the involvement with emerging programs, such as the student exchange and others.

 

Q: Sister city organizations can be organized in a variety of ways. How does Ivano-Frankivsk approach this?

 

OF: Our committee is loosely structured and holds meetings only when a specific issue needs to be addressed. Nevertheless, the group meets roughly once a month to discuss plans and projects.

 

Q: Is it like ASCA in the sense of having a central board of directors for all sister-cities active in Ivano-Frankivsk?

 

OF: No. There is no central organization for all sister cities. Each sister-city relationship has its own, separate organizational structure and its own relationship to the city government and mayor’s office. We have a direct link to Mayor Anushkevych’s office. He visited Arlington twice  once on march 4, 2011 when we signed the sister city relationship during the sister cities international conference that happened to  take place in Arlington, and a second time during  President Obama’s inauguration and was able to participate in some of the associated festivities.  Sister city affairs are assigned to the international affairs department of the local government in Ivano-Frankivsk. That office deals with all our sister cities. We, on the other hand, are a separate NGO, dealing with Arlington exclusively. We participate not as government officials, but ordinary citizens.

 

Q: What kind of staffing does the city have for its sister city engagement?

 

OF: One or two staff look after all our sister cities. In some respects our set-up is similar to yours in Arlington. The sister city committees have their own boards and make their own program and expenditure decisions.

 

Q: But unlike Arlington, there is no association that brings together representatives of all Ivano-Frankivsk’s sister cities. Each city committee meets only separately, right?

 

OF: That’s right.

 

Q: Aachen organizes its sister cities more like you than like us in that regard. ASCA is different, insofar as it brings together representatives from all our sister cities on the same board.

 

Tell us a little bit about the sister city activities in which you have participated. And as president, you must face the challenge that all presidents of sister city committees face—how to get people involved, as well as how to make sure that decisions that are made are actually implemented.

 

OF: When our delegation to Arlington returned in 2010, the committee set about the task of developing programs. We focused on cultural and educational exchanges. We brainstormed about putting together a good program for high schoolers from Arlington.

 

I and My daughter was among the first group of host families. We had a great time introducing the Arlington students to the local culture. We made a trip to the mountains and spent a few days at BUKOVEL, a famous resort. The sense of discovery was amplified by the fact that some participants did not even know that Ukraine is a country a short time before their visit. They didn’t know that Ukraine was not part of Russia. They were eager to learn local customs. They liked the experience; they made friends; they are still communicating. The Arlingtonians visited us in September and in October we made the reciprocal visit to Arlington. They had a great time here. That was the first experience with exchanges.

 

We developed another program that relates to our city’s blacksmithing heritage. Ivano-Frankivsk runs a blacksmith festival every year in May to celebrate that heritage. It has a national and international character, with people coming from all parts of the world. Concepts are presented at the beginning of the festival, out of which comes a collaborative work. At the conclusion of each festival, a work forged during the festival is selected, presented to the city and put on display. There are seven or eight of them so far.  At one point, I was in conversation with one of the blacksmiths, who mentioned that he was traveling to America to participate in an event. We were able to parlay that plan into a link with Arlington, which could host a blacksmith. this blacksmith worked at George Washington’s   Mount Vernon along with their resident blacksmith and left behind an everlasting positive impression. both personally as well as professionally.  Anatoliy Rudik  also worked with the blacksmiths at  the blacksmith shop  located at the gulf branch nature center  in Arlington and today the central library in Arlington has a metal sculpture crafted by the blacksmiths of Arlington in cooperation with the blacksmith Anatoliy Rudik from Ivano Frankivsk.

Q: I have heard that you are on the threshold of a new programmatic departure.

 

OF: That’s right. We are developing plans for highlighting business opportunities in the city and region of Ivano-Frankivsk. The issue is what mutually beneficial features can we identify. Yesterday, we had a meeting with Arlington Economic Development—AED—to brainstorm ideas. We also visited the start-up incubator 1776 in Alexandria. Ukraine has established an excellent reputation for its software engineers. The United States is in the first ranks of innovation, but you need good engineers to materialize ideas. Ukraine can offer excellent quality at a very reasonable price. We are developing a proposal to use the sister city mechanism as a platform for organizing a start-up competition involving Ivano-Frankivsk, Reims, Aachen, Arlington and perhaps other sister cities. The idea is to run local competitions that produce winners whose proposals are then brought to 1776 for a run-off.

 

Q: We will be following your progress with interest. Tell us about the scope of engagement of your sister city committee. How many regular activists can you count on?

 

OF: The number is about ten key people active in our several activities.

 

Q: That approximates our experience here, too. It doesn’t take many, but it is hard to engage more on a regular basis.

 

OF: The number is, of course, elastic, During the hot phase of a project, say a high school exchange, more people are drawn in, as needed, to provide specific service, to offer home-stays, for example.

 

Q: What about the age profile of your board.

 

OF: Board members are in the 40-60 years range.

 

Q: ASCA is perhaps a bit older and that is an issue we need to address here.

 

OF: One spur to sister city organizational development is the change coming now in administrative parameters. Ukraine is reforming public administration, such that many decisions will henceforth be decentralized. Kyiv is about to relinquish more power to Ukraine’s two dozen regions. Regional elections are slated for this October and the outcome will be important for Ivano-Frankivsk. Policy and regulatory oversight will depend much more on local authorities. Personnel decisions made in the wake of these elections will affect what we can do. For instance, there is an Institute of the City, now directed by OLEH Golovenskiy one of our members who first visited Arlington. Economic development, attracting inward investment, will be one field where greater responsibility will fall to the regions. Aspects of cultural policy are also affected by this reform. It falls to the regions to re-prioritize their activities, and this demands our participation. Resource-saving innovations, like e-government, are on the agenda.

 

Q: Does this constitutional reform amount to the creation of a federal state?

 

OF: It does.

 

Q: And the regions, like Ivano-Frankivsk, which is both a city and a region with its hinterland, will elect an official who functions something like the governor of an American state?

 

OF: That’s right.

 

Q: Do people in the broader networks appreciate the value of sister city arrangements?

 

OF: Yes, indeed. We take some inspiration from Arlington. We like how it is being run in fields like transportation, economic development, education, and so forth. We would like to learn more about this from your experts. It is a landscape of competing jurisdictions and we are beginning to think hard about how to distinguish ourselves, make ourselves more attractive as a place to live and work. We view the changes underway as a great opportunity for us. You in Arlington have experience operating in this kind of competitive environment.

 

Q: I am sure the learning will run in both directions between us, not least because of the great tradition you have in engineering and informatics.

 

OF: There is room for mutual benefit. Ivano-Frankivsk has more than fifteen IT companies.

 

Q: Let me turn to the last phase of our conversation by asking you about the perception of the value of sister cities. It is natural when you connect to foreign parts to connect with people that you know. There is therefore the diaspora dimension to consider—Ukrainians in America. But sister city relationships are clearly broader than that. Talk to us about the relationship between these two dimensions of the sister city connection.

 

OF: It is great when you become acquainted with another community. There are topics of mutual interest to discover and explore. More sharing means more learning and further development. This brings me to the issue of language. Nowadays, English is very popular in Ukraine. Another advantage we have from our sister city relationship with you is to improve our capacities through contact with native speakers. Just the other day, our president Poroshenko, announced 2016 as the year of the English language. We can therefore expect that the authorities will encourage efforts in this field. We are convinced that this linguistic embrace will connect us better to the wider world and bring significant benefits.

 

Q: So let’s continue with this line of thought by addressing the question of the continuing relevance of the sister city idea as a mechanism for bringing people together. In the 1950s when it was started, people were more foreign, so to speak. They didn’t interact that much, not only because of the Cold War but for other reasons as well. International communication and transportation networks were not as developed as they are today. In this context, the sister city idea was something special. Sixty years on, all that has changed. In an age in which CNN is telling you what is happening at every moment, in an age when you can get on the phone and talk to anybody at any time, is the sister city idea still as relevant now as it was in the past?

 

OF: The sister city concept of the 1950s must be understood as a new technology for communication in itself. It is true that you can get information very quickly, but you cannot feel that interaction between people. You cannot feel their energy. You cannot feel the breeze, you cannot taste the food. The broadcast experience is radically incomplete. The more first-hand experience you acquire, the better off you are. You are learning something. You are fully human. There is something else that we have learned from our specifically Ukrainian circumstances: don’t trust the media too much. We have become all too familiar with the weaponization of information. The media situation here is quite different than the info-war raging in Ukraine now. Nowadays, many of us have switched off the telly.