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Cincinnati officials are headed to Ukraine to renew sister city partnership with Kharkiv

a white building sits against a predawn sky with three streaks of bright lights appearing behind it
Vadim Belikov
Russian rockets launch against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region, at dawn in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 8, 2023.

Cincinnati’s 34-year sister city partnership with Kharkiv, Ukraine, will be renewed this month.

The two cities have been connected since 1989. Sister city relationships have historically been about cultural exchange; this connection became much more when Russia invaded Ukraine a year and a half ago.

Cincinnati Council Member Mark Jeffreys and Cincinnati-Kharkiv Sister City Partnership President Bob Herring will go to Ukraine later this month to sign an updated agreement. Herring says they have an important message for Kharkiv.

"You're not alone. We support you. Cincinnati stands with you through this and through the rebuild," Herring told WVXU.

Kharkiv is Ukraine's second largest city with a population of about 1.4 million. It's just 25 miles from the Russian border and was hit hard, especially during the early invasion.

RELATED: Kharkiv Sister City president reflects on the 1 year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Herring and Jeffreys will travel to Kyiv to meet with Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov and sign an updated memorandum of understanding for the next five years.

Herring and Jeffreys will also participate in the Kharkiv Rebuild Forum.

"It's really looking ahead for when the war does end — what do they need?" Jeffreys said. "They need physical infrastructure, for sure. But then even things like medical professionals ... so we're approaching it from the standpoint of listening and hearing their needs, and then coming back and sharing that with not only our city, but the broader community."

RELATED: The 'Ukrainian Banksy' has remained in Kharkiv despite Russian attacks

Herring says the partnership has raised more than half a million dollars to support organizations working in Kharkiv, including the Red Cross. He hopes to return from the trip with a better idea of how Cincinnati can continue supporting the city.

"We'll focus on what can citizen-to-citizen help look like?" Herring said. "But we want to hear from the folks in Kharkiv. We don't want to send stuff that they can't use or that they don't need or it's not a priority for them — that just gets in the way."

Herring and Jeffreys will take gifts like a city of Cincinnati flag and memorabilia from local sports teams.

"It's more symbolic.," Jeffreys said. "It certainly does not address the core needs that Kharkiv has now, but it's more a symbol of our friendship and solidarity that we're there for them now and going forward, as well."

The two leave for Ukraine on Sept. 16.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.