June 2 – 15 , 2017Vol. 19, No. 1

Local Delegation to Visit Sister City in Russia

The onion domes of a centuries-old Russian Orthodox cathedral rise above the trees in Solvychedodsk, a village near Kotlas.

by Gregor Smith

Later this month, Kotlas, Russia, Greater Waterville's sister city, will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its founding. Four area residents will travel to Kotlas to join in the festivities.

The four are Mark Fisher of Oakland, John and Lisa Fortier of Belgrade, and Gregor Smith, also of Belgrade. The delegation's leader, Mark Fisher, is an Oakland town councilor, host father to many past Russian exchange students, and founder of American Academic Adventures, a new company that arranges student exchanges. Lisa Fortier is the daughter of non-Communist Russian refugees who emigrated to New York City after World War II, and her husband, John, owns the State Farm Insurance Agency on Silver Street in Waterville. Gregor Smith works at the L.L.Bean call center in Lewiston and for this newspaper.

Maine Governor Paul R. LePage had hoped to join the delegation for its first few days in Kotlas but was not granted a visa. Gov. LePage visited Kotlas twice while he was mayor of Waterville, in 2005 and 2008, and has vowed to return to Kotlas before his term as governor ends in two years.

Gregor Smith, Mark Fisher, Lisa Fortier, and John Fortier in a classroom in Kotlas.

The group will fly out of Boston on June 4, arriving in St. Petersburg the next day. After four days of sightseeing, they will board a train for the 23-hour ride to Kotlas. There the festivities will begin on June 10, and will run for three days. The centennial celebrations will include a parade, fireworks, musical and theatrical performances, exhibitions, and a gala dinner.

The delegation will remain in Kotlas until June 16, when they will board a train for Moscow. After two days in the Russian capital, they will fly back to the United States. You will get to read all about their adventures here in Summertime in the Belgrades later in the season.

Home to around 75,000 people, Kotlas lies at the confluence of two mighty rivers, which are similar in size to the Mississippi and the Missouri. Unlike those two American rivers, however, the Northern Dvina and the Vychegda flow north, to the Arctic Sea.

A view of the Vychegda River from the bell tower of the Annunciation Cathedral in Solvychegodsk, looking downstream toward Kotlas.

At 61° North, Kotlas is at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. While the winters are long, cold, and dark, the summers are warm, occasionally hot, and full of light. During June, the sky never truly darkens. The days are 19-20 hours long, punctuated by 4-5 hours of twilight.

Although the region has been inhabited for centuries and became a center of commerce in the 19th century, it did not become incorporated as a city until 1917. Today the city boasts a shipyard, a rail junction, an airport, and a once-secret "electro­mechanical" factory, which produces aircraft and rocket parts. A nearby town, Koryazhma, has the largest cluster of paper mills in the former Soviet Union.

Kotlas and Waterville officially became sister cities in June 1990, when the mayors of the two towns signed a sister city pact. (Although technically the agreement is between Kotlas and just Waterville, sister city organizers here have always interpreted it broadly to include the surrounding towns.) Since then, dozens of travelers have come in both direction for educational and cultural exchanges. For more information about Kotlas and the sister city partnership, one may visit the website of the Kotlas – Waterville Area Sister City Connection at www.kotlas.org.