Mayor Jesse Arreguín raises the Ukrainian flag in Downtown Berkeley at Civic Center Park on Feb. 28, 2022. Credit: Ally Markovich Credit: Ally Markovich

Berkeley plans to suspend its relationship with two Russian sister cities — Dmitrov and Ulan-Ude — in response to atrocities committed by Russia during its bloody war in Ukraine.

The decision, which the City Council is expected to approve Tuesday evening, is the latest in a series of local actions intended to show solidarity with Ukraine.

Calling Russia’s war “despicable,” “outrageous” and a threat to “democracy at its core,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín proposed the suspension after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called upon mayors across the country to cut ties with their Russian sister cities during a virtual address at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June.

“What do these ties give you? Probably nothing,” Zelensky said. “But they allow Russia to say that, even after beginning such a war, it is not isolated.”

Arreguín said suspending ties is a symbolic action intended to send a message to Russia and show solidarity with Ukraine, where at least 4,000 civilians have died, according to the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court is investigating alleged Russian war crimes. The suspension is temporary: Berkeley intends to reinstate ties when the war ends.

“There’s this feeling of, what can we do about it, since we’re so far away?” Arreguín said. “But we have to do everything we can, whether it’s cutting diplomatic ties, donating or even just flying the Ukrainian flag. And we want to do more.”

Since the war began in February, Berkeley has showed its support by raising the Ukrainian flag downtown and passing two resolutions, one supporting Ukrainian territorial integrity and another urging an immediate ceasefire. Individual Berkeleyans have been helping Ukrainians: Quinn Dombrowski co-founded a group dedicated to archiving Ukrainian cultural websites, while the owner of Saul’s deli, Peter Levitt, headed to Poland to cook for Ukrainian refugees.

Berkeley’s connection with Dmitrov, located just north of Moscow, was established in 1991, and with Ulan-Ude, located in Siberia near Lake Baikal, in 1992. Its ties to its sister cities have been dormant since the 1990s. After Arreguín was elected mayor in 2016, Berkeley contacted all of its sister cities (there are now 17), but never heard back from the Russian ones.

“The underpinnings of the sister city relationships have always been to advance peace and cooperation, and the illegal immoral war on Ukraine, spearheaded by Putin is anything but,” said Igor Tregub, a Berkeley resident who was born in Kyiv and has been raising funds for Ukraine since the war began. “It really makes no sense for the relationship to be there.”

Tregub said the link between Berkeley and Russia has troubled him and others in the Ukrainian diaspora, many of whom have close family and friends in the country.

Since the spring, Tregub has been exploring the possibility of establishing ties with a Ukrainian city in the future. “These kinds of relationships are important and they give hope to communities in Ukraine,” he said.

Arreguín said he would like to see Berkeley develop a relationship with a sister city in Ukraine.

About eight California cities have ties to Russian cities, including Livermore, Long Beach, Los Altos, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Jose, the East Bay Times reported. Earlier this month, the San Jose mayor refused to cut ties with its Russian sister city, citing a need to “keep the lines of communication open,” while Santa Clara County ended its relationship with Moscow in March.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...