The future of the Roanoke-Pskov sister city relationship remained unclear Tuesday, less than a week before the Roanoke City Council is set to vote on the status of the partnership.
On Friday, Mayor Sherman Lea said in an interview with Cardinal News that the city council would be voting on a resolution to dissolve the city’s 30-year relationship with the Russian city over the ongoing war in Ukraine.
But in an email Tuesday, Vice Mayor Joe Cobb – who’s also a member of the Roanoke Valley Sister Cities board – took issue with that characterization.
“The message conveyed regarding our relationship with Pskov is inaccurate,” Cobb wrote. “The Roanoke Valley Sister Cities board is ‘pausing’ our relationship, not cutting ties.
“The language in the official letter, which will be received by Council at our Feb. 21 meeting, states ‘pausing our relationship,’” he reiterated.
But Lea stood firm in his stance on Tuesday. “Personally, my position is to discontinue the relationship with Pskov,” he said. “Others may want to pause the relationship with Pskov but we have been down this road before.”
Lea also had said Friday that Roanoke would take down the Russian flag that flies downtown as part of a larger sister-city display.
Roanoke’s sister-city relationship with Pskov dates to 1992, and for years it was an active one, with visits and educational exchanges between the two regions and the delivery of medical and other supplies to Russia.
A year ago, days after Russia first invaded Ukraine, Gov. Glenn Youngkin called on Roanoke and Norfolk to end their Russian sister city relationships. Roanoke refused, with both Lea and the head of Roanoke Valley Sister Cities writing to the governor to say that Roanoke denounced Russia’s acts and supported Ukraine, but that the city would maintain its relationship with Pskov.
In March, the city council voted to condemn the invasion but reaffirm Roanoke’s connection with the people of Pskov.
Last month, however, Roanoke Valley Sister Cities posted in an online newsletter that it had “paused” the relationship with Pskov because of the ongoing conflict. Bill Bestpitch, the group’s treasurer and a former member of the city council, said last week that it had agreed to initiate discussion with the city council and city administration.
Other U.S. localities with Russian sister cities have faced similar decisions. Norfolk acceded to Youngkin’s demand that it cut ties with Kaliningrad, but the partnership had been inactive for years. Durham, North Carolina, opted to suspend its relationship with Kostroma, Russia, citing the possibility of resuming “citizen to citizen diplomacy” when possible.