A POLITICAL row has broken out after twinning arrangements between County Durham and the Russian city of Kostroma were severed over the invasion of Ukraine.

County Hall in Durham is currently flying the Ukrainian national flag in a show of solidarity and support for the innocent victims of Russian aggression.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, the leader of Durham County Council, issued a statement regardind the cutting of ties on Wednesday in response to the escalation of the violence.

However, while the council’s joint administration has faced criticism from Labour members for not taking the decision earlier, the former ruling party has been called 'shameful' for politicising the issue.

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Cllr Hopgood said: “We share the horror and sadness felt by people around the world at the situation in Ukraine and our thoughts are very much with those who live there, as well as their family members and friends in different countries.

“As a gesture of our strong solidarity with and support for Ukraine, we are very proud to be flying its national flag at County Hall."

The Northern Echo: County Hall in Durham. Picture: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL County Hall in Durham. Picture: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL

“We are an inclusive and welcoming county and as part of that have developed a number of town twinning arrangements over the years.”

Twinning arrangements also exist communities in Germany, Slovakia, Denmark, France, Spain, America and Hungary.

The Northern Echo: The chairman of Durham Council, Alderman Middlesood, centre, during a visit to County Hall by a delegation from Kostroma in 1969The chairman of Durham Council, Alderman Middlesood, centre, during a visit to County Hall by a delegation from Kostroma in 1969

County Durham was first linked to Kostroma, 250 around miles to the north east of Moscow, in July 1968, but there have been no active projects in place through this twinning for some time.

Read more: Ukrainians in Durham tell of their parents' brave fight against Russia

The Northern Echo: Councillor Amanda HopgoodCouncillor Amanda Hopgood

Cllr Hopgood said: “In light of the military action being carried out by Russia, and in line with steps already taken by other councils across the country, we will be ending the twinning arrangements with Kostroma as a show of our opposition.

“We wish to make it clear we do not blame people in Kostroma for the actions of their country’s leaders.

“Our thoughts remain firmly with Ukraine.”

It is understood the authority’s official position earlier this week was that the arrangement was ‘under review’, pending Government advice.

Labour has claimed the council decision to the Charter of Friendship with the Russian city ended after a letter was sent to Cllr Hopgood by Labour Secretary, Cllr Robert Adcock-Foster on behalf of the County Durham party.

The Northern Echo:

In it, he said the failure to cut ties was “an insult to the men, women and children of Ukraine fighting an unprovoked and aggressive Russian invasion”.

Cllr Adcock-Forster’s letter said: “Governments, public bodies, and private businesses worldwide have taken steps to sanction, boycott and isolate Russia, often at considerable economic and financial costs, in a show of solidarity.

“Durham County Council has the opportunity to make a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Ukrainian people by ending our links with Kostroma.

“County Durham people will be shocked at the decision to keep this matter 'under review'.”

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The Northern Echo: Councillor Rob Crute Councillor Rob Crute

County Durham Labour Deputy Leader, Cllr Rob Crute, said the council did not have to wait for Government guidance, to speak for County Durham, its people, its families, its businesses and organisations.

He said: “I think the people of County Durham will be offended that this Tory-led Coalition did not act quickly, decisively and unequivocally to cut ties with Kostroma, rather than issue a weak statement to the media one day before taking the correct course of action the next day.

“Our communities want no connection to a regime threatening peace and security, undermining democracy, and indiscriminately targeting Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure.

“It’s disappointing that it’s taken a letter from Labour Group to force the Coalition into taking the right decision - a decision most of us would have taken instinctively.”

Cllr Hopgood said earlier comments about twinning had been a 'holding statement' while the authority found paperwork about the twinning partnership and its details.

She said the comments made by Labour members were 'shameful'

Cllr Hopgood said: "There was no prevarication, hesitation or delay in dealing with this important issue, but simply a commitment to thoroughness in checking the current status of any existing partnership with Kostroma. That was entirely proper and appropriate.

"There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine and as innocent civilians lose their lives or get displaced, the rest of the world is watching on in horror.

"Many people in County Durham are trying to find ways to help, through financial donations or providing other forms of practical assistance, and the county council has been actively encouraging residents to support the work of the British Red Cross.

"That’s the kind of response that we need to this awful situation, rather than Labour’s pathetic attempt to turn the matter into a political football.”


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