26 July 2022, 10:01
Uniting Cities Against War: What is Twinning and How to Establish It

In four months of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, the world has united to oppose Russian aggression as never before. Dozens of foreign cities are here to support Ukrainian communities and become their sister cities. The government of Ukraine, in addition to developing its program for the reconstruction of the destroyed Ukraine, actively promotes the formation of horizontal international ties at the community-community level. This type of partnership is more effective in a situation where there may be delays at the central level. This allows communities and cities to act independently and reactively, without waiting for approval from above. All this is the result of the power decentralization of power in Ukraine, which generates new meanings and new initiatives on the local level.

How do cities establish twinning? What is the benefit of such cooperation? How to expand the network of twinning ties?

What is twinning, and why is it good for cities?

Cooperation between sister cities begins with the signing of a written document on cooperation. At first glance, it seems to be a rather formal procedure, but many cities start really strong ties that last for years.

Twinning promises win-win cooperation through mutual development of business, tourism and trade, as well as investment attraction. Twinning process occurs in almost every area of community life. Arrangements are often based on mutual economic benefit. For example, the twinning of Ukrainian Khmelnytskyi and Namangan in Uzbekistan involves the development of light industry and the possibility of creating joint enterprises.

The first international twins and partners began to appear in Ukrainian cities after World War II. Zaporizhzhia began to cooperate with the Finnish city of Lahti in 1953, and a year later Kyiv signed a cooperation agreement with Leipzig. However, with the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine, such cooperation acquired new meanings. Currently, the twin status is also used to facilitate the sending of humanitarian cargoes.

In addition, twinning cities now offer their expertise in reconstruction projects of Ukrainian regions. There are already specific agreements with partners who are ready to participate in such transformation. According to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Switzerland is ready to participate in the reconstruction of Odesa, and Great Britain is ready to participate in the reconstruction of Kyiv region. Estonia offers support in the reconstruction of Zhytomyr region; Denmark will help with Mykolaiv and the region.

“Communicate with your colleagues in countries you already have agreements with. Ask to help your city or community in reconstruction, start developing joint projects. Let's give new meaning to the expression 'sister cities' together,” urges the Prime Minister.

War is man’s true touchstone: how foreign sister cities help

The “Transparent Cities” program analyzed how foreign municipalities support 50 Ukrainian citiesAccording to the program, foreign cities have provided humanitarian aid almost 150 times since the beginning of the large-scale war.

Countries with the most aid from twin cities

*aid in 50 Ukrainian cities, data from open sources in the period from May 4 to 27, 2022

Humanitarian cargoes from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia helped to equip warehouses-hubs in Zakarpattia (Transcarpathia), where aid is accumulated and distributed to communities and beyond the region. According to the mayor Bohdan Andriiv, every third person in the city is an internally displaced person. Therefore, twinning support helps in providing people with everything they need.

Not only regional centers receive large amounts of aid. For example, Drohobych received 475 tons of cargo in 70 days. Most of it is food, clothing, hygiene products, medicines, and essentials for the displaced. There are about 12,000 of them in the city. “People are coming to us from hotspots where active hostilities are taking place. Usually, these are women with children arriving from Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk region, Kharkiv and other cities,” says Oksana Matchyshyn, head of the city's social services center.

Some foreign municipalities turn to their sister cities or partner organizations for help, so they can transfer it to Ukraine. For example, Giżycko gave Dubno a special fire engine that the city received from its German partner, the city of Querfurt. And Hrubieszów, with the help of the Polish business community, handed over the humanitarian cargo to the Volodymyr City Council.

After the outbreak of the full-scale war, partnerships were initiated, in particular by foreign cities, showing a wave of solidarity with Ukraine. For example, Bourges offered to become twinned with Korosten, Poprad with Uzhhorod, and Gdynia with Zhytomyr. “It's a wonderful city with wonderful people, and really, a friend in need is a friend indeed. This city was one of the first to get in touch, they said: we are ready to help, how can we help?” Gdynia is a powerful port city,” said Zhytomyr Mayor Serhii Sukhomlyn.

Due to the significant request of German communities for cooperation with Ukrainian ones, the German government has increased the budget for supporting cooperation projects several times.

In total, from February 24 to June 6, 14 of the 50 cities had new partners or twins. Agreements on friendly relations establishment were signed between Kyiv and Hamburg, Madrid, and Paris. Chernivtsi has three new partners — Düsseldorf, Mannheim, Metz. They will help cities with reforming the transport and utilities systems, establish cultural and educational exchanges. Foreign cities are also ready to help with postwar reconstruction. Kharkiv enlisted the support of Lublin, and Chernihiv — of Rzeszów.

Types of aid provided by sister cities

*aid in 50 Ukrainian cities, data from open sources in the period from May 4 to 27, 2022

How to expand the twinning network 

Cities that do not have sister cities or have cooperative agreements with a few municipalities are strongly encouraged to expand such cooperation. The team of the “Transparent Cities” program advises:

  • First, it is worth determining the areas of city management in which your municipality wants to cooperate with another city: improving efficiency, modernization, or exchange experience. For example, it could be cooperation with a focus on environmental protection or green spaces design, housing and utilities services activities, creation of electronic democracy tools, traffic management, etc. Furthermore, to provide humanitarian aid, which is relevant during the war in Ukraine. The decision to establish partnerships with foreign cities can be made by either the city council or the executive committee.
  • Next, you need to identify a city that can share experience or helpOf course, it would be good to visit the city’s municipality to better understand in which areas cooperation is possible. But if a visit is not possible, you can send a letter of intent for cooperation, especially for humanitarian aid. There is no limit in choosing a future sister city, but you should be guided by the fact that it should be a bilateral cooperation, that your city should also come up with initiatives and recommendations for effective municipal management.
  • The next step is to develop and agree on a draft Twinning or Cooperation Agreement with the city you want to establish partnership relations with. The text of the Agreement must be accompanied by an explanatory note, justifying the need to establish friendly with the other city.
  • The final stage of establishing ties is when the city mayors or official delegations sign relevant documents. And since then, two cities can exchange experience in a specific area of ​​city management or receive/give assistance.

Twinning opens up many opportunities for Ukrainian municipalities, both during the war and during the reconstruction period. By establishing twinning ties with cities abroad, Ukrainian communities can not only quickly receive humanitarian aid, exchange knowledge and experience, but also expand their export potential by opening new sales markets.

The material was prepared for ZN.UA