Tooker, Koskinas Return From Historic Visit To Ukraine

Westport 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas have just left Poland, after a historic trip to Ukraine.

The officials were part of the first-ever delegation of US officials or politicians to the liberated territories of Donetsk, since the Russian invasion began.

Their visit launched a new era of cross-cultural collaboration and friendship.

Tooker and Koskinas met with their sister city counterparts, Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov and Police Chief Igor Ugnevenko of Lyman, Ukraine.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas and 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker (far left and middle), Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass (far right) and Ukrainian officials, entering Lyman. Their bulletproof vests and helmets were not for show. Fighting still rages nearby.

Westport and Lyman formed the first sister city partnership in the US, last winter. Ukraine Aid International — founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer — facilitated the program.

Other Connecticut communities including Easton, Fairfield, Stamford and Greenwich have also formed sister city relationships, through UAI. Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass joined Tooker and Koskinas, and met his counterparts from Sviatohirsk. The Governor of Donetsk was also involved.

The delegation’s tours of Lyman and Sviatohirsk were very emotional. Both towns have suffered greatly from Russian attacks.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov, at one of Lyman’s many ravaged apartments.

“Walking through our beautiful sister city that has faced unprecedented devastation, I am humbled by the resilience and spirit of its people,” Tooker said earlier today.

“Witnessing the devastation first hand has only deepened my commitment to this partnership. Together we will help rebuild, restore and breathe life back into these unjustly shattered communities.”

Tooker and Koskinas were accompanied by the Mayers, and Liz Olegov of UAI. The group saw firsthand the destruction of schools and municipal buildings, the bombing of railways, and the ecological disaster caused by the accumulation of trash and debris in Lyman,

The trip — which did not involve any municipal funds, and was not announced previously due to security concerns — ended with a summit in Sviatohirsk. Against a backdrop of ruins surrounded by greenery, an official memorandum cementing the sister city partnership was signed by Tooker and Zhuravlov.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov, with their signed sister city partnership.

Several high-ranking Ukrainian officials were also present. They expressed deep respect and gratitude for the Americans’ visit, in a high-risk area amid an ongoing war.

Fighting continues to rage not far from Lyman and Sviatohirsk.

Throughout the visit, the American delegation was protected by the National Police and the Patrol Police of Ukraine.

Ruslan Goriachenko, head of the Department of General Inspection and Human Rights of the National Police of Ukraine, played a pivotal role.

“We were so fortunate to meet our fellow officers in Donetsk Oblast,” said Koskinas.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas with his Lyman counterpart, Igor Ugnevenko.

“Their bravery and leadership in protecting the people of this region and keeping order is incredible. We look forward to working more closely with our Ukrainian friends, and helping with anything they need.”

Officials discussed how to strengthen communication between Westport and Lyman, deepen governmental-level ties, and foster enduring partnerships based on mutual respect and shared aspirations.

From left: Foti Koskinas, David Bindelglass, Jen Tooker, Alexander Zhuravlov, Igor Ugnevenko, Brian Mayer and Liz Olegov, with Westport and Lyman flags.

In just 3 weeks over the holiday season, Westport raised $252,000 for Lyman. The funds have helped rebuild housing, and paid for police and garbage vehicles, communications equipment, bulletproof vests for frontline utility workers, thousands of seeds for planting, and more.

In addition, holidays meals were delivered to residents. Each child still in Lyman received a Christmas gift.

Bedford Middle School and other Westport youngsters have sent cards and posters to their new friends in Lyman.

A new round of fundraising will be announced soon. To contribute now to Westport’s sister city of Lyman, click here. Under “Designation,” click on the dropdown menu to find “Lyman.”

Connecticut and Ukrainian officials, at the Sviatohirsk meeting.

Presenting the Connecticut flag.

Affirmation, on a Donetsk sign.

24 responses to “Tooker, Koskinas Return From Historic Visit To Ukraine

  1. Robert Colapietro

    who paid for this; and, why???

    • Private funds. Why? To affirm Westport’s sister city relationship, cement human relationships, and show solidarity with human beings who have spent over a year living in basements and scrounging for food while being bombarded by a country trying to take over their land.

      • Thanks, Dan, for your level headed reply to Colapietro’s hostile sounding question. That our town has a police chief and First Select person sharing, in person, our concern for a country torn asunder by a monster war criminal, should be applauded, not questioned.

    • Mr Colapietro, your question is a fair one. Transparency of the donations by Westporters to help Lyman is important. It is also important to make the people connections to build trust, see and learn first hand how best to help.I for one am very proud to see our very brave elected and appointed officials make the journey to a war zone to understand first hand how best to help….and they are helping! I, for one, am confident every dollar raised and inkind donations are for the benifit of the people of Lyman and Ukraine.

  2. Andrew Colabella

    This is such an amazing story!!! To take part in an organized safe trip on their coin to help out after raising such an overwhelming amount in money and resources to help our sister town is heartwarming.

    This is leadership, this is love and this is resilience.

  3. J. Scott Broder

    First to the official and politicians from Westport and Weston thank you for showing the support for Ukraine and Layman communities. You have exemplified the real spirit of America through financial support, cooperation and care in helping rebuild this impacted community. Bravo and thank you for making our towns proud while showing true American humanitarian spirit !
    Secondly to Robert Colipietro’s inquiry above the article clearly states, “The trip — which did not involve any municipal funds”.
    As to the why, May I kindly suggest rereading the article.

    Dan, Thank you for reporting this encouraging story 🙏🏼

  4. Lovely of them. God help the people of Ukraine. In the meantime, we are sitting in traffic jams in town every day, with little to no detectable attention from the town. Long lines at intersections, poorly timed traffic signals, red light & stop sign runners/avoiders, etc.

  5. J. Scott Broder

    Correction in my above comments:

    Not Weston rather Easton’s 1st Selectman David Bindelglass joined Tooker and Koskinas !!!

  6. Truly amazing and wonderful. Jen and Foti, words, which rarely fail me, now do. The gesture, the effort, the difficulty and the warmth and compassion do each of you proud. Al in Westport should also feel proud and honored by you trip.
    Thank you.

  7. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    As Joe prophesied so presciently, Ukraine was only going to be at worst a minor incursion on Putin’s part. No big deal, right? Probably safer than going to Bridgeport for a good photo op.

  8. Andrea Williams

    When I know I’m off to a war torn country, you best believe I’m packing my black dress and heels. Especially when I can accessorize my outfit with a black flak jacket.


    • Andrew Colabella

      Wow, you’re not judging at all. Had it not been for the current administration in town becoming sister towns and adopting them while raising OVER the amount intended for them, saving lives and making their livelihood durable and easier…and all you can think about is what someone is wearing? A man does that it’s sexist, you do it and it’s justice?

      Imagine if Westport had been torn apart and they raised over $250k and leaders came to visit and help and make sure their priceless and bountiful donations put to work…are you going to focus on what they’re wearing, or your home in shambles? Dead family member or relative? Priceless photographs and memories burned?

      If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

      Hate Has No Home Here #amirite? #rightladies?

  9. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrecker, '66.

    We have plenty of problems here. We didn’t vote for these representatives to reconcile world peace. If they want to go over there on their own nickel (that seems to be the answer to everything when the town says “no”) fine, but when you wave the Wrecker banner, you better be wearing boots instead of high heels in a war zone. Embarrassing.

  10. Deb Rosenfield

    I communicate almost daily with a few people in Kiev and the devastation in Ukraine is heartbreaking and reprehensible. Anything that can be done to boost morale there is critical, especially at this time, when the world sometimes vacillates in support. Thankfully, President Biden has stood strong with US support, in conjunction with our allies.

    That said, if Ursula Von Der Leyen, the head of the EU, can wear slacks and low-heeled walking shoes, appropriate for the cobblestone streets and debris from bombings, when she visits Ukraine, Ms. Tooker can, too. There is no way Ms. Tooker could have walked around viewing the devastation in those 6″ skinny heels, so it must have been a nice tour of hop in/hop out of the car for photo ops. Wearing non-ostentatious, appropriate clothing would have been more in line with showing solidarity for the plight of the people in this devastated country.

    Last, why did she present a Connecticut flag and not a Westport flag, since Westport is the sister city to Lyman and the reason for this visit? Ms. Tooker does not represent Connecticut as a whole and it sort of detracted from the reason for her visit, which, I assume, was town-to-town personal support. Under proper protocol, representing the State of Connecticut is a job for Senators Murphy, Blumenthal or our esteemed Congressional Representatives or even our Governor.

    • I can’t speak for Ms. Tooker. However, as you can see in one of the photographs, Lyman already has a Westport flag. It was sent earlier this year.

      I also assume since the Easton first selectman was on the trip, and — thanks to Ukraine Aid International — there are also sister cities with Stamford, Fairfield and Greenwich, that a Connecticut flag seemed appropriate.

      • Deb Rosenfield

        Thanks for that, Dan.

        I guess what I should have made clearer was that the US State Department is carefully negotiating diplomatic channels because of the war in Ukraine. It would be nice to hear directly from Ms. Tooker whether or not she had approval for this trip from both Hartford and Washington DC. since she appeared to be presenting herself as an elected official from the United States.

        • Again, I can’t speak for Ms. Tooker, but I know the trip was very carefully coordinated at all the proper governmental levels, in the US and Ukraine. This was not a “freelance” trip. All proper authorities were involved.

          And she was not “presenting herself” as an elected official. She is one.

  11. Jo Ann Miller

    This town takes itself far too seriously. So seriously, it is sad and comical at the same time. Sister city. LOL. Try slowing down the traffic on North Avenue before you take on Putin.

  12. John D McCarthy

    No good deed goes unpunished…..Some wacky responses here. Thank you Jen and Foti for representing our town on this important, symbolic trip.

  13. Slava Ukraine! It took courage to go to a war torn country that was invaded by Communist Putin. Thank you First Selectwoman Tooker and Police Chief Koskinas for representing those of us who believe in freedom and democracy by offering aid and hope.

    • Dermot Meuchner

      Let’s see the same energy spent on stopping this war that didn’t need to happen and it is anyone’s right to question just what the end game is here.

  14. I am so proud to support the visit of our First Selectwoman Tooker and Police Chief Koskinas for all their efforts in helping Ukraine. You both bravely visited our sister city Lyman and feel this was necessary and wonderful. One cannot help feel perplexed at the brutal attack on their country, and feel an awe of how the people of Ukraine are determined to fight and retain their independence. The courage of Ukrainians has inspired the world and Westport stands with you in your struggle of freedom. The restraint the Ukrainians have shown in the face of adversity and aggression sets a fine example for every country in the world. It is truly moving to see our top officials and Westport come together as a community to help our sister city across the world. We will continue to building lasting connections to provide vital aid to those in need with this devastation of war. We are standing here with you in all kinds of footwear. Pray for peace! “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that your impact lasts in your absence.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg

  15. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I agree but why stop with the “sister city” concept? How about a little role reversal with the doppelgängers in Lyman? Switch places for a year. Kind of like the foreign exchange program that Dan reminisced about where a Staples senior went to South Africa for a year in ‘63-‘64. I’m sure the mayor of Lyman and the Lyman chief of police would learn a lot from a year spent running the show in Westport. And with Ms. Tooker and Chief Koskinas on the job over in Ukraine I bet Putin would sue for peace and bring the boys home PDQ!!!

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