"I was shocked, honestly," said Mayor Patrick Slayter.
Sister City dust-up in #Sebastopol where visitors from Ukraine have been denied visas by US State Department. Locals embarrassed. Had expected guests for long-planned event. #abc7now pic.twitter.com/fluSeQZq0A— Wayne Freedman (@WayneFreedman) November 1, 2018
If you visit City Hall, Slayter will proudly show off the gifts and exchanges from Sebastopol's sister city, Chyhyryn (pronounced CHEE-HEAR-IN), Ukraine. Now he, and local members of the World Friends Organization, are just plain exasperated about a citizen exchange that will not happen.
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"It never occurred to me that it would affect my friends," said Patty Levenberg while working in her kitchen making borscht for a dinner this weekend.
The dinner will honor 25 years of sister city-hood, and would have included seven visitors from Chyhyryn-- until the State Department blocked their visas with no explanation. We spoke with the would-be emissaries by phone on Thursday.
"They are disappointed. And we are disappointed, too," Ludmilla Birko told us.
"I think by definition it is an international incident," pronounced Mayor Slayter.
Five of the seven Ukrainians have been here before. Last year they welcomed people from Sebastopol in their homes. The banned group includes a priest and a teacher. They would have arrived and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, today. Now, they feel locked out.
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"The only thing I can think is the policy of your President. That your world is not as open as it used to be," said Ludmilla, who insists she is not bitter.
Thursday morning, the groups in Sebastopol and Chyhyryn held their phones and waved from a distance of 6,206 miles. That's is as close as anyone will get for now, at least.
We asked Mayor Slayter how he would explain this to the mayor of Chyhyryn.
"I would apologize for what the State Department has done."