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Summertime in the Belgrades

Fall/Holidays, 2005Vol. 7, No. 15

Local Delegation Visits Russian Sister City

Waterville Delegation at the Kremlin in Moscow

The delegation poses in front of the Tsar's Bell (which is 20 feet high, weighs 189 tons, and has never been rung) in the Moscow Kremlin. Standing from left to right are Linda Rennebu, Gregor Smith, Carl Daiker, Phil Gonyar, Joanna Hopkins, Ellen Corey, Nancy Foster, Paul LePage, and Ron Turcotte. Peter Garrett, Herb Foster, and Jessica Garrett kneel in front. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

By Gregor Smith

This August, twelve citizen diplomats from Central Maine and beyond traveled to Kotlas, Greater Waterville's sister community in Russia. The delegation, which included Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, also visited Moscow and St. Petersburg during its seventeen day Russia sojourn.

The trip was organized by the Kotlas – Waterville Area Sister City Connection and marked the fifteenth anniversary of the formal proclamation of sister cities ties between Waterville and Kotlas, a city of 80,000 people located 500 miles northeast of Moscow.

The delegates began their adventure with two and a half days in Moscow before taking a 22-hour train ride to Kotlas. The highlights of their seven days in Kotlas included a day trip to the historic town of Velikiy Ustyug, famed for its
Two Mayors

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage greets his Kotlas counterpart Sergei Melentev.

nearly two dozen Orthodox churches; an overnight kayaking expedition on Kotlas's river, the Northern Dvina; meetings with the mayor, other public officials and businessmen; and visits to a bakery, an orphanage, a brick factory, a hospital, and a school for the arts.

Wherever they went, the group was royally treated, greeted with food and drink, gaining new friends — and pounds — along the way. Several of the travelers became local celebrities, their exploits chronicled on the local evening news on several occasions, including a fifteen-minute retrospective of their visit on the night of their departure from Kotlas. After leaving Kotlas, the group spent three days in St. Petersburg before returning to the U.S.

The visit stemmed from an invitation last summer from Kotlas's then-Mayor, Alexander Shashurin, to his Waterville counterpart, Paul LePage. The Kotlas Connection brought Mayor Shashurin and four other Russians to Waterville for nine days in June 2004, thanks to a grant from the Library of Congress.

Church of the Ascension

Constructed in 1648, the Church of the Ascension is the oldest church in Velikiy Ustyug.

As a result of this invitation, Paul LePage became the second Waterville mayor to visit Kotlas; David Bernier made the journey during his tenure as mayor in June 1991. Mayor LePage was only able to participate in the first half of the trip, returning to the United States after visiting Moscow and spending four days in Kotlas.

Also in the group was the co-founder of the sister city effort, Peter Garrett of Winslow, and his daughter Jessica Garrett of Somerville, Mass. In April 1989, the two Garretts and the late Natalia Kempers of Waterville became the first Americans to visit Kotlas since the Bolshevik Revolution. That visit, some sixteen springs ago, made possible the establishment of formal sister city ties fourteen months later.

Besides Paul LePage and the Garretts, the delegation also included Herb and Nancy Foster, Carl Daiker, and Phil Gonyar, all of Waterville; Ellen Corey of South China; Gregor Smith of Belgrade; Ron Turcotte of Augusta; Joanna Hopkins of Norridgewock; and Linda Rennebu of Cherryfield.

The members of this summer's delegation took many pictures and several kept journals as well. You can find their written reminiscences and more of their photos on the Kotlas Connection's web site.

Gregor Smith is a member of the Kotlas Connection's executive committee.

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