Dayna Sabatino, center, describes the process of restoring a 20-year-old tile mosaic during a gathering in Depot Square on Friday. The mosaic honors the sister city relationship between Randolph and the city of Myrhorod, Ukraine. Photo by Tim Calabro/White River Valley Herald

This story by Tim Calabro first appeared in the White River Valley Herald on June 1.

It’s been more than a year since Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine and folks in Randolph have not forgotten their special relationship with the people of Myrhorod, a city in northeastern Ukraine that has been Randolph’s “sister city” since the late 1990s.

On May 26, the Randolph Rotary Club and members of Bethany Church were on hand in Depot Square for the unveiling of a newly restored mosaic honoring the relationship between the two municipalities.

The war in Ukraine “has broken our heart,” the Rotary Club’s Bob Wright told a small crowd late last month. Randolph’s contact with Myrhorod had waned over the past decade before the war started, but Russia’s aggression against the smaller nation served to rekindle the spark between the two towns and over the past 14 months, folks in Randolph have worked to send aid packages to Myrhorod, including medical supplies and even toys for Christmas.

Wright said the Rotary Club has donated several thousand dollars toward efforts in Ukraine and Lee Khan said Bethany Church has been able to raise $20,000 so far.

In the early days of the sister city relationship, Randolph dedicated a tile mosaic to the friendship. That mosaic sits at the base of the flag pole in Depot Square, near the picnic tables outside Chef’s Market, and over the course of two decades, the mosaic showed heavy signs of wear.

Next to the newly rebuilt Myrhorod mosaic in Depot Square, Jenn Colby shows pictures of the original mosaic and how it was damaged over time. Photo by Tim Calabro/White River Valley Herald

Marjorie Drysdale, who traveled to Myrhorod with the Rotary Club in the early 2000s, started working to have repairs made even before war broke out.

“People had lost interest and just walked by it,” she told The Herald last March, “but because I, and several other people, remembered what those days were like, we wanted to restore it.”

Jenn Colby joined forces to find Dayna Sabatino, a Bethel-based glass artist, to do the restoration.

“There it is,” Wright exclaimed to applause during his remarks last week. “It’s gorgeous.”

The piece itself is a semicircle that surrounds one half of the flag pole, just a few feet along its circumference. Bold red lettering across the upper arc shows the words Randolph and Myrhorod side by side with USA and UKR spelled out across the bottom, beneath American and Ukrainian flags.

The central piece of the mosaic shows a dove, the international symbol of peace. That central dove had been completely destroyed by the passage of time.

“The dove was original to the design,” Sabatino said. “It wasn’t there anymore, but we were able to find it in the cement lines that were left over and I had one photo from The Herald to go off of and it was from an odd angle.”

In its initial form, the backdrop of the dove was a take on the United Nations wreath, but Sabatino, with only old photos to go by, had the inspiration to replace that with a sunflower head, a symbol that bears importance both in Ukraine and in Vermont.

The other change to the mosaic is the spelling of Myrhorod. In Ukraine, the city’s name is of course spelled using the Cyrillic alphabet (Ми́ргород). English translations are phonetic and in the early 2000s, the more common spelling used the Russian pronunciation, Myrgorod, with a hard “g” sound in the middle. The rejuvenated mosaic tweaks the spelling to more closely match the Ukrainian pronunciation.

Keeping in touch

Since the Russian invasion, Irene Schaeffer has kept in close touch with Alex Riepin, who served as a translator during a Randolph visit to Myrhorod in the 2000s. Riepin has become Randolph’s primary contact with Myrhorod and he’s been able to help connect folks here with those in need in Ukraine, helping to coordinate major deliveries of supplies and even helping to tune Ukrainians in for joint religious services with Bethany Church.

Because of its position of relative safety — midway between Kyiv and Kharkiv, but not along the main highway — the city has been spared from much of the war’s direct combat and has instead seen an influx of refugees who have lost homes in other parts of the country.

According to Khan, Riepin has been keeping Randolph apprised of the needs of that refugee population — nearly 30,000 strong — and one next push will likely be to get school supplies to children for the fall.

Wright agreed that such an effort would be a great thing for the Rotary Club to work on.

Many of those in attendance had once upon a time visited Myrhorod in the early 2000s.

After the ceremony, Sonny Holt recalled that he’d become close with a former military pilot during his stay there. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Holt had served in the U.S. Air Force as a bomber pilot.

It was the height of the Cold War at the time and, with the lingering nuclear threat, Holt’s mission should war break out would have been to bomb targets in Ukraine. He learned that his Ukrainian friend had the same job: to bomb targets in the U.S. for the Soviets.

With just a brief visit, the former adversaries became fast friends.

The connection to Myrhorod started with Randolph’s town manager in the late 1990s, Gwen Hallsmith, who had worked in Ukraine. She found Myrhorod because, Khan said, the name means city of peace and, at the time, Myrohorod and Randolph both had major water bottling plants and vibrant arts communities.

As the two cities connected, more common ground was discovered and over the course of several visits to Ukraine and some trips by Ukrainians to rural Vermont, a bond was formed. The Randolph Rotary Club helped set up (with the help of a French Rotary chapter), a Rotary club in Myrhorod and for several years there were periodic visits from Randolph.

“It’s a great connection,” Wright said, adding “I hope these photos make it back to Myrhorod. We do care about it and our thoughts are with them.”

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