Tag Archives: Ukraine Aid International

Roundup: Carjacking Forum, Car Theft Podcast, Lyman Apartments …

Tonight’s special forum on car thefts, vehicle break-ins and Sunday’s carjacking (Wednesday, September 20, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) will also be livestreamed. Click here to access that page, on the town’s website.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas will lead a discussion on safety concerns voiced by residents. He and members of his command staff will describe the work of the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, formed in response to increased car thefts and vehicle break-ins in the area.

The discussion will also include police practices utilized to combat vehicle thefts.

Yesterday, Koskinas and 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker taped a special edition of “What’s Happening … Westport.” They discussed the escalation in incidents, and what residents can do. Click below to listen to the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston podcast.


Meanwhile, Westport Police made one custodial arrest between September 13 nd 20. A woman was charged with disorderly conduct, following a domestic dispute.

Police also issued these citations:

  • Failure to comply with state traffic commission regulations 6 citations
  • Traveling unreasonably fast: 4
  • Operating a motor vehicle without a license: 3
  • Operating a motor vehicle without minimum insurance: 3
  • Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 2
  • Failure to obey traffic control signs: 2
  • Evading responsibility: 1
  • Following too closely: 1
  • Distracted driving: 1
  • Distracted driving (2nd offense): 1
  • Operating a motor vehicle using a handheld phone: 1
  • Failure to grant right of way: 1
  • Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 1
  • Operating a motor vehicle under suspension: 1
  • Improper use of license plates: 1


As winter nears, Westport’s sister city of Lyman is in a race against time.

52 apartment buildings need repairs, so they can survive the cold weather and be fully restored in the spring.

Ukraine Aid International co-founder Brian Mayer — the Westporter who helped create the sister city relationship, and has made many trips to Lyman on our behalf — sends a video that shows how much our town has helped.

And how much remains to be done.

(Donations through Ukrainian Aid International will help rebuild the many heavily damaged apartments. Click here to help. Under “Designation,” click the dropdown menu and select “Westport — Lyman Sister City.”)


This Friday’s Westport Country Playhouse show is called “I’ll Drink to That! A Broadway Cocktail Party.”

Fittingly, it will feature Broadway stars.

Joe Delafield, Kristen Hahn and Maggie Lacey will perform cocktail-themed tunes and scenes from Broadway productions, while author Laurence Maslon recounts tales of actors, shows, and cocktail concoctions from his recently published book, “I’ll Drink to That!”

The event (September 22, 6 p.m., Playhouse courtyard and barn) begins with cocktails that pay homage to Broadway. The 70-minute program concludes with a second cocktail and book signing. Cocktails are included with $50 ticket.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

From left: Joe Delafield, Kristen Hahn, Maggie Lacy.


STAR Inc. and Voices Center for Resilience present a special program: “A 22-Year Journey from 9/11 to Today: Helping Families and Communities Prepare for Emergencies” (October 18, 7 p.m., Westport Library).

Mary Fetchet — founding Director of Voices Center for Resilience — lives in New Canaan. Her son Brad died in the September 11 attacks.

She will share her personal experience and perspective on preparing communities in advance of a tragedy. The presentations also includes representatives of local and state emergency management, highlighting their efforts to prepare communities.

For more information and to register,  click here.

Mary Fetchet, with a photo of her son Brad.


When kids go to the doctor, they may be nervous.

Like many offices, Village Pediatrics provides distractions to calm their nerves.

Their latest surprise, for patients big and small: an outer space room.

Huck (in the rocket control center) and Lola Shipman, with their mother.


Speaking of doctors: BD²: Breakthrough Discoveries for Thriving with Bipolar Disorder today announced an $18 million first round of grants, focusing on research in bipolar disorder.

Among the recipients: Westport resident Dr. Hilary Blumberg. She will lead a Yale University team in an investigation of mitochondrial-related genes, metabolic changes, and the central importance of energy- and activity-related symptoms at the onset of bipolar-related episodes. These studies w may translate that into pharmacological therapeutics and behavioral interventions. (Hat tip: Sherri Peyser)

Dr. Hilary Blumberg


The bar for “06880” Entitled Parking photos has been set incredibly high.

Drivers must now show breathtaking acts of selfishness to be featured here.

This one does:

(Photo/David Meth)

That’s not one, but two handicap spots taken up at Stop & Shop.

Plus, the car is taking up space in the drivers’ part of the lot too.

And — of course! — there is no handicap placard inside the car.


Johanna Keyser Rossi reports for “Westport … Naturally” from Sherwood Island State Park:

“There were lots of monarch butterflies yesterday, all around the milkweeds and bees. Unfortunately, lanternflies were everywhere too.”

(Photo/Johanna Keyser Rossi)


Roger Whittaker — described by the New York Times as “a British singer whose easy-listening ballads and folk songs caught the sentiments of perfect summer days and last farewells, touching the hearts of mainly older fans across Europe and America for four decades” — died last week in France. He was 87.

Click here for a full obituary.

(By contributing to”06880,” you support local news coverage. Please click here to help your hyper-local blog. Thank you!)

Roundup: School Security Unit, DPIC Comments, Lyman Update …

Westport’s new School Security Unit begins work Monday (September 11).

The unit is a partnership of  the Police Department and Board of Education. Funding was approved unanimously this week by the Representative Town Meeting.

Officer Sean Kelley will be promoted to sergeant soon, and will supervise the unit. He was hired by the WPD in 2000, and has served as a detective in the Youth Division. He will be assigned to Bedford Middle School.

Officer Dennis Broderick will be assigned to Coleytown Middle and Elementary Schools. He was hired a year ago, after retiring as a sergeant with the Milford Police Department, where he spent over half his 20-year career in the Detective Bureau.

Corporal Rachel Hall will be assigned to Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools. She was hired in 2016, after beginning her career with the Ridgefield Police Department. She is a member of the Marine, Motorcycle and Drone Units, and served as a desk officer.

Officer Edward “Ned” Batlin will be assigned to Long Lots and Greens Farms Elementary Schools.  He was hired in 2001, and was the DARE officer for many years. He is very active with local sports, at the high school and PAL levels.

Though the SSOs will primarily remain outside of the schools, they will work directly with administrators as needed.

In addition to providing enhanced security, they will  focus on traffic enforcement and safety concerns during student drop-off and pick-up.

Officer Ed Wooldridge will continue as Staples’ highly regarded and very popular School Resource Officer.


John McCarthy has been adamant recently about the need for more openness and transparency in local town government.

So he took notice yesterday when the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee posted scores of comments, following their Parker Harding Plaza August 22 charrette at the Westport Library.

“Kudos to the DPIC,” John says.

“It took a lot of work to get the comments typed up. I would have been happy with just copies of people’s handwritten notes,  but nice to see they went the  extra yard.”

Click here to read them all. It’s a great way to get a feel for the pulse of the community.

Members of the public were invited to comment after last month’s Downtown Plan Implementation Committee meeting about Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Dan Woog)


On Wednesday, the Flood & Erosion Board approved Vita Design Group’s plan to build a house next door to Eloise A. Ray Park, on Riverside Avenue.

A “Friends of the Park” group is concerned that the park will be unusable while construction is ongoing; that it will be used in part as a staging area, and damaged by equipment; that the park will be “forever altered by having a multi-level house, driveway, patio and walls” encroaching on it; that trees will be cut, and wildlife, and that traffic on Riverside will be affected.

They invite interested residents to email saveeloise@gmail.com.

The next hearing is before the full Conservation Board, on September 13.

Eloise A. Ray Park


The bad news is: In Lyman, dozens of apartment buildings need repair before winter sets in.

The good news: It’s been several weeks since Russians attacked our Ukrainian sister city. And Westporters’ donations have already helped shore up 15 apartment buildings.

Ukraine Aid International’s Brian Mayer — the Westporter who co-founded the boots-on-the-ground non-profit, and helped engineer our town’s sister city relationship — provided an update yesterday.

He told First Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and “06880” that a construction firm is doing the dangerous work of repairing roofs and windows, to enable the damaged apartments to withstand the coming snow and freezing temperatures.

Mayer recently visited Lyman Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov. Behind his desk is a shelf filled with items sent from Westport.

Tooker and Koskinas are in near daily contact with the mayor and Lyman police chief. Each time, the Ukrainian officials tell their Westport counterparts how much our town’s support means to them.

(Donations through Ukrainian Aid International will help rebuild the many heavily damaged apartments. Click here to help. Under “Designation,” click the dropdown menu and select “Westport — Lyman Sister City.”)

In July — just hours after a Russian attack killed 8 Lyman residents — Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov sent a video thanking Westporters for their support.


Connecticut’s annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony drew a reverent crowd yesterday to Sherwood Island State Park, the site of the state’s official memorial.

From that spot in 2001, smoke from the Twin Towers was visible.

Connecticut holds its ceremony before the September 11 anniversary, so relatives and friends of those killed in the terrorist attack can also attend the New York memorial on that day.

Yesterday’s 9/11 memorial, at Sherwood Island State Park. (Photo/Harris Falk)


Westoberfest — the Westport Downtown Association’s Oktoberfest-style event — has something for everyone.

There’s beer tasting from dozens of craft breweries, sure.

But also live music; food by Walrus Alley, Kneads Bakery, Lobstercraft and Little Pub;  a children’s area run by the Artists’ Collective of Westport and MoCA; a street magician, bubbles and face painting; a pumpkin and apple giveaway; food trucks, shopping and vendors like Savvy + Grace.

Take-home tasting glasses with koozies are courtesy of Lux Bond & Green.

It all takes place October 14 (2 to 5 p.m.), off Elm Street. Click here for tickets, and more information.

Westoberfest is for beer drinkers — and families. (Photo/JC Martin)


Jennifer Johnson spotted this ship in Long Island Sound, earlier this morning.

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)

“What is it dumping?” she asks.

I have no idea. But I’m sure someone in our “06880” universe does. Click “Comments” below, if you know.


A service for Rev. Ted Hoskins — the former and much-loved Saugatuck Congregational Church pastor who died last month — will be held this Sunday (September 10, 2 p.m.) in Blue Hill, Maine. Doug Miller — Rev. Hoskins’ former associate minister in Westport — will officiate.

The service will be livestreamed. Click here for the link.

Rev. Ted Hoskins (Photo courtesy of Penobscot Bay Press)


Forget car washes and candy sales. The Staples High School girls swim and dive team has a fundraiser that will really make you smile: a comedy show.

Their first-ever “Dive Into Comedy” (get it?!) event includes 4 comedians who have slayed it in laces like Caroline’s, Stand Up New York, Broadway Comedy Club and The Stress Factory.

It’s September 28, at the Fairfield Theatre Company. Click here for tickets (adults 21+ only).

“Don’t tread water. Get your tickets today!” the girls say. Hah!

“Make people laugh,” the photographer told the Staples swim and dive team. They did.


But speaking of sports team car washes: The Staples boys soccer team holds theirs tomorrow. It’s 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Christ & Holy Trinity Church parking lot on Elm Street.

Like the girls swim team, they’re raising money for costs not covered by the Board of Education budget.

Workin’ at the (boys soccer) car wash…


Gary Lucas — a rock guitarist lauded by Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed, who collaborated with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley — is the latest StoryFest addition.

He’ll rock the Westport Library October 22 (2 p.m.), accompanying George Melford’s 1931 Spanish-language “Dracula” film with a live guitar score.

Lucas will add even more to the largest literary festival in Connecticut. This year’s 6th annual event (October 20-22) includes a keynote conversation  with legendary writer Neil Gaiman; panel discussions and author conversations; a special reading of Eric LaRocca’s new play, “Gentle Hacksaw”; a children’s event with Pinkalicious author Victoria Kann, and PitchFest (a 5-hour paid workshop where aspiring authors can speak to literary agents about their book. Click here for more information.

Gary Lucas (Photo/Michael Arkk)


It’s not yet fall — but this guy is getting ready for winter, at Tracy Porosoff’s kousa dogwood tree. Nothing could be more “Naturally … Westport.”

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)


And finally … Steve Harwell, former lead singer of Smash Mouth, died Monday. in Idaho. He was 56, and suffered from liver failure.

(There is a lot going on in town. And “06880” covers it all. Please click here to help support our work. Thank you!)

Unsung Hero #293

It takes a village.

And two villages — Westport and Lyman, Ukraine — are indebted to an amazing villager, Connie Belta.

These days, Connie splits her time between Fairfield and Florida. But she was a longtime Westporter. For decades, she and her family ran the legendary Belta’s Farm (and farm stand) on Bayberry Lane.

Though not Ukrainian, she’s also a longtime member of Southport’s Ukrainian-American Club.

She was away last winter, when Westport adopted Lyman as a sister city, and raised over $250,000 to help pay for building materials, generators, communications equipment, police and garbage trucks, bulletproof vests, meals and more.

So this spring, she offered to organize a thank-you party for all those who helped.

And to raise even more money.

Connie Belta, at LymanAID. (Photo/Dan Woog)

“LymanAID” — last Sunday’s town-wide event — was special. There were free drinks, food, music and kids’ activities. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes and area selectmen offered heartfelt speeches.

And there was an array of creative ways to donate to Lyman. The money is more important than ever. Just 24 hours earlier, a Russian attack left 8 residents killed, and 11 injured. All were civilians.

It took a ton of volunteers to make LymanAID a reality. Connie recruited and inspired them all. Then, she put them to work.

The day included a giant raffle, a book pull, treasure hunt, sales of art and wheatgrass, and much, much more.

Oh, yeah: Connie underwrote it all.

Her brothers and their families, the Ukrainian-American Club, Ukraine Aide International, Mark Yurkiw, Steve Taranko, Sam Rossoni and so many others contributed to LymanAID’s remarkable success.

But Connie Belta was the heart and soul of it all. Everyone else followed her vision, and stood on her shoulders.

Congratulations, Connie, for being this week’s Unsung Hero. The entire villages of Westport and Lyman thank you!

(LymanAID is over. But donations through Ukrainian Aid International are still welcome. Click here to help. Under “Designation,” click the dropdown menu and select “Westport — Lyman Sister City.”)

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email nominations: 06880blog@gmail.com.)


LymanAID Lifts Westport’s Sister City

The final tally is not yet in.

But yesterday’s LymanAID townwide event raised deep into five figures for Westport’s sister city in Ukraine.

It was a chance to honor all who donated last winter, helping supply Lyman with building materials, communication equipment, home generators, bulletproof vests, police and trash vehicles, meals and Christmas gifts.

It came at a crucial time. Just 24 hours before crowds arrived at Southport’s Ukrainian-American Club, Russian artillery killed 8 civilians and injured 11 others, on the streets of Lyman.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas — who walked those same streets 7 weeks ago — were shaken by the news, and the photos their counterparts sent after the attack.

Tooker, and speakers including Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman  Jim Himes, congratulated the large crowd for their concern (and donations). Blumenthal spoke particularly strongly, denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “murderous war criminal thug.”

He also noted the importance of bipartisan support for Ukraine, adding that he spoke with Senator Lindsay Graham about that subject, in the parking lot while walking to LymanAID.

Several young Ukrainian children sang their national anthem. Blumenthal compared them to youngsters “climbing through the rubble, or in makeshift hospitals.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal (far left), with Ukrainian children and national anthem singer Olichka.

In a video recorded just hours after yesterday’s attack, Lyman Mayor Aleksander Zhuravlov described the scene in his town. He thanked Westport for its efforts to help.

The mayor’s words inspired one attended to offer — on the spot — to match all donations up to $15,000. A stream of people headed to the donors’ tent.

Lyman Mayor Aleksander Zhuravlov sent a video message, just hours after 8 residents of his town were killed by Russian artillery.

There was plenty to do, for all ages. The Mike McGovern Band played, and a Ukrainian singer from Hartford sang her country’s songs.

Booths offered free chili, chicken, burgers, hot dogs and pizza. Children had their own entertainment center.

Writing messages for Ukraine, at the kids’ center.

Organizers estimated that 500 people attended the afternoon-long event.

Meanwhile — thanks to the herculean organizational efforts of Connie Belta (who underwrote most of the event herself), and dozens of volunteers — there were many opportunities to give to Ukraine Aid International, the non-profit started by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer.

Connie Belta. A force of nature, she organized the entire LymanAID.

For $10, attendees could buy a pair of handmade socks, then write a personal message that would be delivered along with the socks.

For $20, anyone could buy a wrapped (surprise!) coffee table book.

Mark Yurkiw organized an art sale, including postcards with special Ukrainian stamps.

On Saturday Night, Aztec Two-Step (aka Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler) played a sold-out show at the Levitt Pavilion. Yesterday afternoon, they headed to LymanAID.

There were planters of wheatgrass (Ukraine is one of the world’s leading wheat growers), quilts in a variety of designs, dozens of raffles (including donations from Westport’s other sister city of Marigny, France), and hundreds of “treasures,” all for sale.

And, of course, $10 bought a bottomless amount of “LymanADE.”

(LymanAID is over. But donations through Ukrainian Aid International are still welcome. Click here to help. Under “Designation,” click the dropdown menu and select “Westport — Lyman Sister City.”)

Enjoying LymanAID (from left): Fairfield 1st Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick; Weston 1st Selectwoman Sam Nestor; Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass; Senator Richard Blumenthal; Ukraine Aid International co-founders Marshall and Brian Mayer; Westport 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker; USA4UKR founder and president Olga Litvinenko; Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas; Ridgefield Responds chair Annetta Hewko. (Photo/Dick Kalt)

Marshall and Brian Mayer, co-founders of Ukraine Aid International.

From left: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Reverend Aleksander of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Bridgeport, Fairfield 1st Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Tooker, Koskinas Reflect On Historic Ukraine Trip

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas will long remember many of the sights, sounds and smells of their recent trip to Westport’s sister city: Lyman, Ukraine.

Bombed-out buildings, charred tanks, artillery fire, an app alerting them to incoming missiles — those are seared in the memories of the first Americans to travel to the Donetsk Oblast since the Russian invasion more than a year ago.

But even more meaningful are their encounters with the Ukrainian people: the governor and head of the national police force, who traveled for hours to meet them. The mayor and police chief, finally in person after countless Zoom calls.

Most of all, the residents of Lyman: the people who put on the best clothes they could find, to greet the Westporters. The few children in the lone classroom still open.

And the man who skirted land mines to hike to a lake, bring back three fish, smoke them, and proudly present them as a traditional gesture of thanks.

Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov presents 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker with a smoked fish: a Ukrainian gesture of friendship.

Tooker and Koskinas are still processing all that they saw and did, on their 4-day journey from the Polish border to far east of Kyiv. They took a circuitous route on pock-marked roads and over pontoon bridges, doubling back around destroyed bridges and other obstacles.

In armored vehicles and with a police escort, they sped through every traffic light and stop sign. “It’s harder to hit a moving target,” Koskinas explains.

Yet the tight security was comforting. Tooker always felt safe, under the watchful eyes of the police and military.

US and Connecticut flags, at the Donetsk Oblast border. From left: Brian Mayer of Ukraine Aid International; Police Chief Foti Koskinas; 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker; Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass; a police officer, and Liz Olegov of UAI.

Still, it was not until they crossed — on foot — into Poland for the return leg that they felt out of complete danger.

The trip — privately financed, with no town funds — was a chance for the 2 officials to see how the $252,000 raised by residents over the holidays for our sister city had been spent.

Police chief Foti Koskinas, with 1 of 2 trash trucks bought by Ukraine Aid International, with funds donated by Westporers. When all such vehicles were destroyed by Russians, there was no way too remove tons of debris. 

Ukraine Aid International — the organization founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer — handled ground arrangements. Tooker and Koskinas got an up close look at their personnel and logistics.

“Their model is unbelievably effective,” the 1st selectwoman reports. “They go where no other group goes. They even deliver goods for other groups.”

“They’ve developed incredible relationships. When they drive in, the military recognizes their vehicles and waves them through roadblocks.”

Westpor donors have funded an array of initiatives: building materials for apartments; water purification systems; home heating devices; police and trash vehicles; communication equipment; bulletproof vests for utility workers; vegetable and fruit seeds, and more.

Tooker and Koskinas saw that all those goods and materials had been delivered efficiently. “That’s not always the case with humanitarian aid,” Tooker notes. “But Ukraine Aid International gets the job done.”

Utility workers repair equipment near the front lines. Westporters’ contributions paid for protective and other equipment.

A second reason for the trip was to cement personal relationships. Since the holidays, Koskinas has spoken almost daily to his counterpart, Police Chief Igor Ugnevenko. Tooker has been in frequent contact with Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov.

Spending time with those officials underlined the importance of Westport’s sister city relationship. “Foti and I are more committed than ever to do everything we can to help,” Tooker says.

They’re spurred by a cascade of images. In the one functioning classroom, in the only school left standing. students of all ages come on a rotating schedule. Despite the challenges, “it’s as warm and welcoming as our classrooms here,” Tooker says.

There is no running water or electricity in the building. But in a makeshift cafeteria, educators proudly set out a lunch of homemade food for their guests.

The school is like the rest of Lyman. As they toured the town, Tooker and Koskinas were allowed to walk in only a few areas — and only on asphalt. Land mines are buried everywhere.

“Picture the most graphic World War II documentary,” Koskinas says. “We saw it. There’s a ‘graveyard’ of Russian military artifacts. You can still smell the burning flesh.”

The perseverance and warmth of the Lyman people was “astonishing,” says Tooker. They found the best clothes they could, ironed them, and greeted the Westporters with smiles and hugs.

A Lyman resident hugs 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, as thanks for Westport’s help rebuilding her apartment.

A ceremony for the signing of the official sister city relationship was held in a remote area. The governor, and the heads of the national police (the equivalent of our FBI) and patrol police traveled for hours to be there. It was important for them to see the Americans who had traveled so far, Tooker says.

“They kept calling us ‘heroes.’ It was embarrassing. We were horrified,” she adds.

The chasm between the US and Ukraine was brought home in sharp relief minutes after their arrival at Newark Airport.

“People were fighting over taxis. I mean, really?” Koskinas says.

They came home a few days before Memorial Day. This year’s holiday “had a whole new meaning for me,” the police chief says. “You know the saying: ‘Freedom is not free.’ That’s so true. They’re giving up all they have to be free.”

“My respect for the armed services was always high. Now it’s higher than ever,” Tooker adds.

The officials are eager to share all that they saw, felt and did. They are filled with respect for the Ukrainian people — and for the help that Ukrainian Aid International delivers.

Discussing clean-up operations, amid the remains of Russian tanks.

“Brian and Marshall Mayer told us that going there would make a difference to Lyman,” Koskinas says. “It did. That’s my biggest takeaway.

“Foti and I made a professional and personal commitment to our counterparts,” Tooker says.

“We will communicate regularly. They face a generation of rebuilding. We will be there for them.”

(The second round of donations for Lyman has begun. Click here, then select “Westport” from the “Where it is needed most” dropdown menu. And mark your calendar for July 9: A town-wide “Lyman-AID”  celebration with food, music and more. It’s free — but there are also many ways to contribute to help our sister city. Click here for details.)

Connecticut and Ukrainian officials, after a meeting in Sviatohirsk .


First Reflections From Lyman: Tooker And Koskinas Speak

Several days after returning from Ukraine, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas are still processing the sights, sounds and smells of that war-torn nation.

But they sat down with Dick Kalt, podcast director for the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston.

In this special addition of the biweekly feature “Westport … What’s Happening,” Tooker and Koskinas — the first American officials to travel east of Kyiv, to the Donetsk Oblast — describe their visit to Westport’s sister city, Lyman. The trip was arranged by Ukraine Aid International, founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer.

They saw first-hand the life-changing impact of residents’ $252,000 fundraising, over the holiday season. They spent hours with their counterparts, Lyman’s mayor and police chief, cementing relationships that had begun by Zoom.

Though just a few kilometers from artillery shelling, they were well protected by military forces from the moment they crossed the Polish border.

Their time in Lyman was highlighted by impromptu meetings with grateful residents. Some put on their best clothes to greet the Americans, and say thanks.

Click below to hear Tooker and Koskinas’ first reflections from their groundbreaking, friend-making journey.

(The second round of donations for Lyman has begun. Click here, then select “Westport” from the “Where it is needed most” dropdown menu. And mark your calendar for July 9: A town-wide “Lyman-AID”  celebration with food, music and more. It’s free — but there are also many ways to contribute to help our sister city. Click here for details.)

Sister City Connection Continues: Huge “Thank You” Event Set For July 9

A recent visit to Lyman, Ukraine gave Westport officials an up-close-and-personal look at the impact our town has made on our sister city.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas saw how Westporters’ contributions of $252,000 helped rebuild apartments, kept police operations functioning, enabled electricity restoration, and assisted with garden planting.

They understood too the depth of gratitude in Lyman for strangers, who have now become friends.

Earlier this week, Westport 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Lyman Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov formalized our sister city partnership.

Now, the next phase in the Westport/Lyman sister city relationship begins.

Organizers of last winter’s fundraising have planned a special day of gratitude and celebration for Westport’s support and generosity.

Everyone in town: Mark your calendars for Sunday, July 9 (1 p.m. to dusk).

Ukraine Aid International hosts a unique (and free!) event. LymanAID (pronounced LEE-mon-aid, almost like the drink) is a day for food, fun and music; for showcasing the impact Westport has made — and to raise funds for more help.

Everyone is invited. It’s at the Ukrainian American Club, on the Post Road in Southport at the I-95 Exit 19 on-ramp.

Admission is free. But there will be plenty of opportunities to give, from VIP admission to a treasure sale, raffle, Yankee auction, coffee table book pull, plant sale, “LymanADE” stand and more. Lyman Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov will speak on a big screen.

Free admission includes light snacks, drinks and entertainment.

VIP tickets ($350) include reserved seating, a commemorative gift, open bar, homemade Ukrainian-inspired meal and more.

VIP Plus tickets ($1,000) receive all benefits above, plus signage with your family name or company logo, a message for the Ukrainian people, and a Ukraine flag signed by Mayor Zhuravlov.

Sponsorship opportunities are available too. For information, email  connievonzwehl@gmail.com.

To RSVP, purchase VIP tickets and for more information, click here. To make a direction directly now, click here; under “”Designation,” click on “Westport-Lyman Sister City” in the dropdown menu.

NOTE: The entire event has been privately underwritten. No Ukrainian Aid International funds will be used. All money raised will go directly to Westport’s sister city. 

A much-needed trash truck sports the Westport flag.

Ukrainian officials hold the Westport flag; Ukraine Aid International’s Marshall and Brian Mayer, and Liz Olegov, hoist the Lyman banner.

PS: Want an idea of how to help?

Seed packs ($140): Enable 10 families to replant their crops or gardens.

Electric generator ($450): Sponsor a 2.8kw electric generator to power a house or small business in Lyman.

Hydraulic jack ($1,900): Help construction crews by donating a hydraulic jack.

Radio units ($6,000): Supply 20 radio units for police and first responders.

Water filtration system ($15,000): Provide clean drinking water with a water filtration system for contaminated water sources.

Mobile children’s hospital ($22,000): Fund a mobile children’s hospital/medical truck to bring vital healthcare to Lyman’s youngest residents.

Bedford Middle School students sent 200 cards, letters and drawings to their Lyman counterparts.

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.

Roundup: Day Of Champions, Michael Calise, Weston’s Sister City …

Every elementary school kid in town, it seemed, raced onto PJ Romano Field yesterday morning, for the annual Day of Champions.

Their parents were there too. All were decked out in costumes — just one part of the offbeat, fun and very important competition.

The event raised over $212,000 for Experience Camps, the Westport-based network of activities for children who have lost parents or siblings.

So who was the big winner, when all the games were over?

Experience Camps, for sure.

One eager team …

… and Jordan Schur’s family, part of another. (Photos/Dan Woog)


Happy belated birthday to Michael Calise! One of Westport’s most celebrated citizens turned 83 yesterday.

Andrew Colabella salutes “one of the many outspoken, preserving, and caring fighters of Westport.” He writes:

“Michael has worked hard to preserve the cultural identity of our town by purchasing land and historic homes for preservation of what our town once was, and is holding on to.

“You can find him often at Town Hall, for Planning & Zoning, Flood and Erosion Control, Zoning Board of Appeals and RTM meetings.

“Summer nights Michael walks from the oasis of trees on Compo’s South Beach to the jetty, Fiona’s Disappearing Island, and back.

“Fall and winter nights he can be found at Luciano Park with his friend and their dogs, playing together. Happy birthday, Michael!”

Michael Calise at a recent “06880” party, and in the Staples High School Class of 1958 yearbook.


Ukraine Aid International — the organization founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer — helps Fairfield County towns partner with similar-sized communities in Ukraine.

Westport was the first. Stamford, Easton and Greenwich followed suit.

Now Weston has done the same.

In this week’s “What’s Next in Weston,” 1st Selectwoman Sam Nestor describes the relationship, and offers details on how Westonites can help their new friends, during this very difficult time.

Click below to listen. The podcast is a production of the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston.


Nature abounds in Westport — even downtown.

Reeds frame Kerri Rosenthal, adjacent to Parker Harding Plaza, in today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo by Sandy Rothenberg.

(Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)


And finally … in honor of yesterday’s fantastic Experience Camps event at PJ Romano Field:

 (Be a champ! Help support “06880.” Please click here — and thank you!)


Roundup: Easter Eggs, Easter Pig, Israeli Food …

If it’s Easter, it’s time for the Easter Egg Tree.

Staples High School Class of 1971 graduate Jalna Jaeger has once again decorated her Norwalk property with hundreds of colorful eggs.

She invites everyone to drive by and enjoy her work. It’s at #3 East Avenue. Head past Stew Leonard’s; go down the hill, then take a right at the first light.

Jalna Jaeger’s Easter Egg Tree.


Speaking of Easter: Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — is all dressed up for the (bunny-themed) holiday.

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)


The Manna Toast logo still hangs over 29 Church Lane.

But a new restaurant is coming soon — “spring/summer,” the sign says — offering “Authentic Israeli” food.

(Photo/Sal Liccione)

I wish I could tell you more. But I followed the links on the sign for The Blondinit. There are no posts on either Facebook or Instagram.

And the website brings up a “Get this Domain” message, from GoDaddy.

Hey, Blondinit: Get your domain now.

Before someone from Layla’s Falafel does.


Westport was first. Easton followed.

Now Stamford has a Ukrainian sister city too.

In a ceremony Thursday, bonds were formalized with Kramatorsk. Of similar size, both are commercial and transportation centers. Fittingly, the ceremony was held at the Stamford train station. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Jim Himes were there.

The connection was made by Brian Mayer. The Westport native — who founded Ukraine Aid International, the non-profit that coordinates donations and support — was interviewed by News12. Click here for that video, which includes a mention of our town’s relationship with Lyman.


Suniya Luthar — who died in February at 64, after 2 years of health difficulties — was not a Westporter.

But the Columbia University professor emerita of psychology and education had an important impact on our community.

For a number of years, she led a longitudinal study on youth and resilience here. She chose Westport because of its high number of high-achieving professionals, and the emphasis on status and achievement.

One of her first discoveries was that “substance use, depression and anxiety, particularly among the (affluent) girls, were much higher than among inner-city kids.”

Dr. Luthar’s research led her to conclude that children of privilege are an “at-risk” group. “What we are finding again and again, in upper-middle-class school districts, is the proportion who are struggling are significantly higher than in normative samples,” Luthar said.

“It is an endless cycle, starting from kindergarten. The difficulty is that you have these enrichment activities. It is almost as if, if you have the opportunity, you must avail yourself of it. The pressure is enormous.”

Luthar was a distinguished developmental and clinical psychologist and internationally renowned scholar in resilience research. Her Westport work was part of a career focused on understanding resilience among diverse at-risk groups, and applying insights in prevention.

Click here for a full obituary.

Suniya Luthar


Hotel Marcel New Haven — the former Pirelli building seen on the left, approaching the city eastbound on I-95 — has gone green.

So green, in fact, that the boutique hotel just earned a LEED Platinum plauqe from the US Green Building Council. That certifies that it meets the highest standards of energy and environment design.

It’s powered by more than 1,000 solar panels, and uses no fossil fuels.

It’s also the first hotel to earn LEED Platinum status in 10 years, and only the 10th ever.

Hotel Marcel

US Representatives Jim Himes and Rosa DeLauro attended yesterday’s ceremony.

Congratulations to architect Bruce Becker — a Westporter who has long championed green causes.

Click here for the full CT Mirror story. Click here for a 2018 “06880” story on Becker.

Bruce Becker outside his home, with a “Westport Green Building Award.” 


VersoFest 2023 is in the books.

If you were among the thousands of attendees, you know it rocked the Westport Library last weekend.

If you weren’t — or you missed part of it — you can “check out” (weak library reference) the 9 panels, workshops and lectures. They ranged from beats and grooves, to the business of music, rock photography, and style. Click here for full videos of all.

And for a quick rap — er, “wrap” — video, see below:


Earth Day is April 22.

But Aspetuck Land Trust — the conservator of open space, and steward of 45 preserves in lower Fairfield County — celebrates all month. Among the activities:

  • Vernal Pool Walk with wetland scientist Edward Pawlak (April 15, 10 a.m.-noon, Trout Brook Valley Jump Hill Preserve)
  • Spring Hawk Migration with raptor specialist Larry Fischer (April 16, 1-3 p.m., Blueberry Patch, Easton)
  • Ephemeral Wildflower Walk with LandTech environmental analyst Anthony Zemba (April 22, 10 a.m.-noon, Trout Brook Valley Preserve)
  • Invasive Species Removal Work Day (April 23, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Trout Brook Valley Preserve)
  • Exploring the Trails with Aspetuck Land Trust land protection specialist Adam Goodman (April 27, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Trout Brook Valley Preserve)
  • Little Legs in Wildlife Kids Walk (April 29, 10 a.m.-noon, Trout Brook Valley Preserve)

Click here for details of all events.

There’s also a spring native plant sale. Online ordering begins April 11 for ALT members, April 18 for the general public. Click here for a list of available plants, and more details.

Pick-up is June 9-11, at Haskins Preserve in Westport.

Among the Aspetuck Land Trust Earth Day offerings: “Explore the Trails,” with Adam Goodman.


“It’s Easter. Where’s my flock?” wonders this Burying Hill Beach guy, the subject of today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Lucy Zeko)


And finally … on this date in 1820, the Venus de Milo was discovered on the Aegean island of Milos. She’s over 2,100 years old, but she still lives on, musically:

(All you need is one arm to click here, and support “06880.” I gotta hand it to you: thanks!)