Jan. 6, 2008
Sister cities program creates lasting
Many people’s lives have been changed by
the Duluth-Petrozavodsk sister city relationship. Here’s a
look at three of them.
For Irina and Andy Ensign of Proctor, the sister
city relationship led to their marriage. Irina, 31, and Andy, 35,
had their first child, Alexa, in July.
The couple is one of at least 20 couples who met
through the Duluth-Petrozavodsk ties and later married.
As a teen, Andy was part of the first Duluth delegation
visit to Petrozavodsk. Irina, who is from Petrozavodsk, came to
Duluth in 1997 for a three-week language camp at the College of
St. Scholastica. She was playing volleyball with a group on Park
Point, and Andy came to hang out because of his experience with
the delegation. Several Americans volunteered to drive the Russians
around during their stay in Duluth, and Andy became the driver for
her and her friend.
After Irina left, they began an e-mail correspondence.
She said she wasn’t looking for romance because they lived
so far apart, but their friendship grew.
Andy visited her in Russia in 1998. In 1999 they
met in Finland and she later visited him in the United States. In
2000, he traveled to Russia three times and on the second visit
he proposed. In 2001 she moved to the United States and they got
“We have so many friendships established,”
Irina said. “People in Petrozavodsk really feel like Duluth
is something familiar. Everyone can tell you where Duluth is. …
I know Russians treasure that relationship a lot.”
Irina hopes the sister city relationship continues.
“It’s interesting that the people
who started it are getting to be older,” she said. “I
hope the new generation gets to continue the tradition and keep
up with all the fun stuff that goes on between the two cities.”
In 1990, pianist Alexander Chernyshev came from
Petrozavodsk to Duluth through the sister cities program to perform
as a musician. That led him to return to the United States in 1991
to work for a concert company in Minneapolis. In 1993 he began teaching
music at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
His wife, Olga, is a violinist, and their adult
son, Igor, is a pianist living in Texas.
“All of us are musicians and we are very
happy here,” Alexander Chernyshev said. “We’ve
played everywhere we can.”
The cultural aspect of the sister city relationship
is important to him, and he considers himself an ambassador for
the sister city relationship. “It’s very important for
both countries,” he said.
There have been musical performances and exchanges
of musicians and conductors between the two cities. In 2006, for
example, Chernyshev led a group of UMD faculty members who performed
at the Petrozavodsk Jazz Festival.
Melissa Kadlec’s interest in Petrozavodsk
is personal and professional. She is executive director of Duluth
Sister Cities International, as well as the mother of two children
that she and her husband adopted in Petrozavodsk.
“I came to this job because I care so much
about this organization,” she said.
Kadlec first traveled to the Soviet Union in 1986,
when she was a student at St. Cloud (Minn.) State University and
was living in Denmark. That trip inspired her to get a minor in
When she moved to Duluth in 1991, Kadlec became
active in the sister cities program to get to know people. In 1993,
she spent three months in Petrozavodsk and taught English. In 1996-97,
she lived there for a year and taught English in a high school.
Her goal was to improve her Russian.
In 1999, Kadlec went to Russia to look into adoption.
A year later, she and her husband, Dan Green, returned to adopt
Kristina and Andrew. Their children are 11 and 8.
She said she and her husband try to keep the Russian
culture alive in their family and often host Russians.
“In the Russian culture, having personal
relationships is so important. You hold it very dear to you. Some
of my best personal relationships are with Russians,” she
Kadlec said many relationships have formed because
of Duluth’s sister city relationships. The other sister cities
are Vaxjo, Sweden; Ohara-Isumi City, Japan; and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Kadlec said she knows people involved in relationships through those
sister cities have feelings similar to those who are involved in
the Petrozavodsk relationship.
The whole purpose of sister city relationships
is to promote peace and understanding of other cultures, Kadlec
said. “It’s made our world a smaller place,” she
said. “I really believe that.”