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St. Petersburg will remain sister cities with St. Petersburg but support Ukraine

The city will light poles throughout the Pier district in blue and yellow as a sign of solidarity.
St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Rick Baker signs a twin cities agreement with Gov. Vladimir Yakovlev, leader of the people in St. Petersburg, Russia. An aide stands nearby. PHOTO FROM CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG.
St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Rick Baker signs a twin cities agreement with Gov. Vladimir Yakovlev, leader of the people in St. Petersburg, Russia. An aide stands nearby. PHOTO FROM CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG. [ HO | Times archives ]
Published Mar. 1, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — According to legend, a coin toss led to the naming of the Sunshine City after St. Petersburg, Russia.

At the turn of the 20th century, John Constantine Williams and Peter Demens, considered the co-founders of St. Petersburg, flipped a coin to see who would name the city. Demens, an exiled Russian aristocrat, reportedly won the coin toss and named it after the town where he grew up. The cities were incorporated 200 years apart.

St. Petersburg, Russia is one of St. Petersburg, Florida’s three sister cities, along with Takamatsu, Japan, Isla Mujeres, Mexico and Figueres, Spain.

Mayor Ken Welch said in a statement Tuesday that his city will maintain its relationship with its Russian sister-city despite the country’s incursion into Ukraine. It is not clear how the sister cities have interacted recently.

“The attacks on Ukraine are deeply disturbing,” Welch said. “We condemn the ongoing violence and unprovoked attacks on Ukraine’s sovereignty. However, we stand with Russian citizens who also oppose their nation’s actions, including the more than 1 million who have signed onto a petition calling for an end to war in Ukraine.”

Welch said he instructed staff on Sunday to illuminate the branding poles throughout the Pier district in blue and yellow as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine and its people.

“They will remain lit in the Ukrainian flag colors indefinitely,” he said.

Related: What Tampa Bay’s members of Congress are saying about Ukraine, Russia

In 2003, then-Mayor Rick Baker traveled overseas to sign a twin-city agreement with Vladimir Yakovlev, governor of St. Petersburg, Russia. They committed “to an exchange of information in spheres both economic and cultural, even citing the ‘humanitarian values’ the two cities hope to share,” according to Tampa Bay Times archives.

“The significance of this relationship is hard to over-state,” Baker said at the time.

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Carl Kuttler, who was the president of St. Petersburg College, helped broker that twin-city deal. Kutter had a longtime friendship with now Russian President Vladimir Putin, a St. Petersburg, Russia native who once worked in that city’s government. Kuttler opened his home to several Russian visitors in 1989.

“At the end of that visit, we all agreed the two St. Petersburgs should forge a closer relationship — and that St. Petersburg College and St. Petersburg University in Russia should do so as well,” Kutter wrote in the Times.