Westport’s sister city relationship with Lyman, Ukraine began with a question.
After “06880” posted a story about our other sister city, Marigny, France, and their desire to work with us to rebuild a town ravaged by Russian occupation — just as Westport had done in Normandy after World War II — a small group of residents began meeting on Zoom.
We wanted to help a town where we could make a concrete, immediate difference — one that had been overlooked by other aid organizations.
We were fortunate that a fellow Westporter has direct knowledge of Ukraine. Last spring, Brain Mayer left his New York tech job to collect and deliver supplies to that war-torn nation. He and is brother Marshall co-founded Ukraine Aid International.
Our group — Tom Kretsch, Polly Newman, Steve Taranko, Mark Yurkiw, and Clyde, Katya and Kathleen Wauchope — asked Brian for ideas.
He suggested Lyman (pronounced Lee-MON). An important railway juncture in the Donbas region, Lyman was occupied by Russian troops from May 24 through October 1. When the forces fled, they left behind unfathomable destruction.
But no one was helping.
A week before Christmas — after a haunting Zoom call with our group, Brian and Marshall, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Brian’s on-the-ground partners Liz Olegov and Richard von Groeling, Lyman Mayor Alexander Victoravich Zuravlov, and a high-ranking security officer — we announced our goal: $250,000 in contributions.
The money will buy essential supplies like plywood and other housing material, generators, medication, Starlinks and tractors.
A truck to remove 8 months’ of debris and trash is on the way. On Christmas Day, Brian delivered 400 fresh meals to elderly and infirm Lyman residents, and 491 gifts — one for every child still there.
Now, the world is finally starting to notice Lyman.
Monday’s New York Times included a photo by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tyler Hicks — coincidentally, a Westport native and 1988 Staples High School graduate — showing Ukrainian soldiers leaving Lyman for the front lines.
And yesterday, Lyman was featured prominently in the Washington Post.
The piece — headlined “‘Nothing Left to Destroy’: Russia is Fighting For Land Already in Ruins” — was filed from Lyman.
The piece described the desperation and despair of villagers, from their lives in squalid basement shelters to their sorrow for lost vegetable gardens.
A particularly poignant paragraph described this scene:
One shell directly struck the kindly 70-year-old amateur beekeeper across the street, nicknamed Mikhalych, as he went to feed the stray dogs in the neighborhood. His body lay in the street, giving off a stench that his neighbors could do nothing about for five days because of the bombardment.
Another section read:
Zoya Konstantinovna, 67, cried into a cloth as she described how missile fire tore into her former home, before showing reporters the sealed sack of water that she uses daily as her shower even now, more than three months after Ukrainian forces retook the city.
Roughly two dozen of the hundreds of people who once lived in her apartment complex now spend most of their days in the below-ground bunker, with the shelling still too present a danger to sleep elsewhere.
This week, the mainstream media discovered Lyman.
Reporters may move on soon, as often happens, to another story in another devastated area of the country, or world.
But Westport will continue to remember — and help — Lyman.
After all: It’s our sister city.
(Click here for the full Washington Post story. Hat tips: John Hartwell and Bill Kutik)
Westport has raised just over $200,000 of our $250,000 goal. Tax-deductible donations can be made to Lyman through Ukraine Aid International. Please click here. Click the “I want to support” box; then select “Support for the City of Lyman.” Scroll down on that page for other tax-deductible donation options (mail, wire transfer and Venmo). You can also donate directly, via Stripe (click here).