Sister Cities panel asked to consider a new partner in Romania

War in Ukraine motivates proposal for adding border town


Ody Norkin has made the perilous journey into Ukraine once. He delivered an ambulance from Romania packed with medical supplies to Odessa on that trip, providing aid to Ukrainians caught in the war with Russia. He also helped prepare other ambulances for similar journeys.

“It’s humanitarian aid,” he said. “There are many trucks. And NATO trucks.” 

Each time he packed an ambulance to cross the border, he witnessed the hours-long line at Suceava, Romania, near the northeast border of Ukraine.

“Having a sister city relationship will help with connecting to leaders in the city of Suceava,” Norkin told the Lansing Sister Cities Commission last week. “That will make it easier to send supplies into Ukraine from there. It’s an important border point for all the humanitarian aid coming in from the south.”

“It will be a good match for Lansing,” Norkin told the commission about Suceava, which with a population of about 124,000 is about 10% bigger than the city of Lansing. “They are eager for a connection with the auto industry” because  of already existing related manufacturing.

Norkin, 68, who is vice president of the Michigan Flyer bus service based in East Lansing, has a very personal interest in Ukraine. His grandfather was a Holocaust victim there, and evidence indicates his grandmother was too. Norkin went on to become an Israeli soldier who fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War before immigrating to the United States in 1978.

Norkin has been helping raise donations in Lansing for ambulances and other vehicles to aid Ukrainians. He will return to Romania next week.

Norkin found his way to the Sister Cities Commission after meeting with Mayor Andy Schor about creating diplomatic ties with the former Iron Curtain country. 

The Sister Cities program is designed to foster connections between the residents of various countries. Lansing has six sister city relationships: Akuapim South District, Ghana; Asan, South Korea; Guadalajara, Mexico; Otsu, Japan; Pianezza, Italy; and Sanming, China. The local organization is a nonprofit affiliated with Sister Cities International.

Commission President Maxine Cain said Romanian officials are expected to send a letter of interest to Schor in the coming weeks. If Schor agrees, then the proposal has to be approved by the commission in Lansing and whatever body is established in Romania.  

“I honestly was not expecting this to go this well,” Norkin said. “Or this quickly. I just needed a connection in Romania.”

Cain said she is hoping to recruit Norkin to serve on the commission.

As the commission is exploring a possible sister city expansion into Romania, it’s continuing its work with other sister cities. 

This past weekend, the commission welcomed 22 young people from South Korea. They are staying in the area with host families and attending classes in Holt. While in Lansing, they will visit the Capitol as well as City Hall. 

“I know the young lady who is staying with us is ready,” said Cain. “Her mother sent her dress for the winter dance ahead of her.”

Another commission project is facilitating the donation of over $1 million in medical equipment bound for Ghana. The donation was made by McLaren of Greater Lansing. 

“We got a phone call about all this equipment asking if we could help donate it,” said Barbara Roberts Mason, the commission’s past president. “Of course, we said we would help.”

In early January a metal shipping was packed with equipment and supplies and put on a ship bound for Ghana.

The supplies and equipment are expected to arrive in Ghana on Tuesday (Feb. 7).

“There are great, great, great needs there,” she said of the hospital located just on the southern edge of the sister city. “This is really a miracle donation.”


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