Birmingham and Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Twin cities, back in the USSR?

Thanks to the library catalogue prompt at the Library of Birmingham, & the helpful staff of the Archives section, after 4 years of enquiries I’ve found the evidence that Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine is or was twinned with Birmingham in Great Britain. People in Zaporizhia remember this but no one in Birmingham seemed to. The sixth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 750,000 people.

I hadn’t thought to look for the spelling Zaporozhe – but the library catalogue software prompted me, “did I mean …” and up came one sole result. A record from 1980 of a typed document with no length and no author. ‘Zaporozhe : Birmingham’s twin city in the USSR’.
Typescript (photocopy), [1980]

And a helpful member of the Archives & Collections team volunteered to look if there were any other items at the same class number. She came back with three slim card folders with A4 photocopied documents.

These included ‘Programme for the visit to Birmingham of a civic delegation from Zaporozhye U.S.S.R, 24th Sept.-1st October 1973’


‘Communique of the first meeting of the twin cities of the USSR and UK’
Typescript (photocopy), 1987.

The twin cities met in Donetsk in July 1987.

I hope that these Birmingham – Zaporizhzhia links can be rekindled. I first was told about them by Assistant Professor Marina Vorybyova at Zaporizhzhya National University in October 2014. That was my second visit to the city and Ukraine, and first visit as a volunteer honorary Professor. I’ve been back four more times since (including volunteering and a lengthy work trip to Ukraine) and will be there again in the Spring.

The 1980 twin city pamphlet is a fascinating 7 page read, by the Birmingham Branch of the Great Britain USSR Association with the help of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Birmingham. Contact M. J. Berry.

Of course the full, lavish & wide ranging programme for the 1973 delegation from the Soviet city included a tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace & performance of Romeo & Juliet in Stratford upon Avon. This is fitting as Zaporizhzhya is home of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. You can read more about that on the Shakespeare Magazine website.

Thanks to Wikipedia for explaining the naming (and statistics):, though there are more different transliterations in English that you can see.
Zaporizhia (Ukrainian: Запорі́жжя [zɑpoˈriʒʒɑ] Zaporizhzhya) or Zaporozhye (Russian: Запоро́жье [zəpɐˈroʐjɪ]), formerly Alexandrovsk (Russian: Алекса́ндровск[ɐlʲɪˈksandrəfsk]; Ukrainian: Олександрівськ [ɔlɛksɑndriu̯sʲk])
(Viewed 29/01/2019).

These are the transliterated into Latin letters name variants that I have come across (I may have missed some)
Zaporizhia / Zaporozhe / Zaporizhzhia / Zaporizhzhya / Zaporozhye / Zaporizia

The third record the archivist found doesn’t even appear on the catalogue when searched under that Call Number LP 31.8. (It was mistyped as P 31.8). A great bit of old fashioned library research.

With thanks to Bob Deed of Birmingham, friend of Ukraine and expert SE Europe traveller, for his continued support in finding out about these links between two major European industrial powerhouses.

Zaporozhe Birmingham s twin city in the USSR scan

Birmingham civic delegation ex Zaporozhye USSR

First meeting twin cities USSR and UK 1987

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12 Replies to “Birmingham and Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Twin cities, back in the USSR?

  1. Now with .pdfs of the documents added.
    ‘Zaporozhe : Birmingham’s twin city in the USSR’. Typescript (photocopy), [1980]
    ‘Programme for the visit to Birmingham of a civic delegation from Zaporozhye U.S.S.R, 24th Sept.-1st October 1973’ (duplicate poorly copied page scanned at front can be ignored) And
    ‘Communique of the first meeting of twin cities of the USSR and UK’ Typescript (photocopy), 1987. The twin cities met in Donetsk in July 1987.

  2. My husband, who taught English in Bournville school, Birmingham, learnt Russian in 1973 and joined the British USSR Association. Back in September 1975, there was a visit of a group of engineers from Zaporozhye and we were asked to entertain four for an evening. We gave them a meal and they were very appreciative. My husband loved practising his Russian. This was repeated in September 1976 with two more Ukrainians.
    Then in 1991, along with other families in Birmingham, for a fortnight we hosted a teacher from Zaporozhye. Our guest was Alexander Godzhek (Sasha) and it was a very worthwhile experience. He went into my husband’s school, I took him shopping in a supermarket (an eye-opener for him), we showed him Oxford and he came on half-term holiday with us to Wales. Birmingham Council had given the guests £100 and Sasha spent all his on a pair of shoes – they had to be outsize! He was delighted.

    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to reply, Merryn. I was very interested to read the recent comments by you and by Dr. Peter Cannon-Brookes. These – even before Putin’s Russia new war – were very different times than the 1970s and early ’90s, but I know that my friends in Zaporozhye (and all the other variants of spelling used over the years) will appreciate that people in Birmingham, England are thinking of them and their city. Fascinating to hear about the visiting engineers – as Zaporizhzhya is definitely a metallurgy city, even now (though I read today one of the industrial plants has been bombed). Teacher exchanges I know were also ways that an earlier generation of teacher – who I think were the ones that taught the established University staff that I know – were able to learn at the time some contemporary English. Best wishes, Kiron

  3. Dr. Peter Cannon-Brookes. then Keeper of Art of the City Museum and Art Gallery and a member of the Birmingham International Council, visited Zaporozhye on a one-man official fraternal visit in 1977 and reported directly to the then Lord Mayor and the International Council. No further action would appear to have been taken by the City Authorities.

    1. Dear Peter, many thanks for taking the trouble to write – as I have just said as well to Merryn Lloyed who added a very interesting comment. I forgot to say, that I had missed seeing both your comments come in, and the notification email so my apologies for the delay in them being posted on the site. Can you remember anything else about your visit. I know it is a long time ago but I can guarantee that if you were in Zaporizhzhya (or other spellings) today – or at least last week before the Russian bombing has hit the city – that you would see on the one hand a totally changed city, as with British cities say from the ’50s compared with now – but you would also see many sites and landmarks that look totally familiar as much of the ‘Soviet baroque’ Krushchevian architecture has been preserved or nicely restored, and some late ’70s landmarks and industrial sites or industrial archaeology remain. Best wishes and thanks again, Kiron

  4. I have a pen pal from zaporyzhe. I left my address at central library some time in tbe late 80 s and started receiving letterz. I got lazy in my late teens but we are friends on facebook now. I feel so ignorant.

  5. I wrote the text on Zaporozh’e (the Russian spelling). If you pass my email address to your contact at the Library I still have some other materials that can be added to the archive. I contacted the Central Library about this some years ago but apart from an acknowledgement never heard any more from them.

  6. UPDATE, I got this nice message by email from retired teacher Ann Scott in Birmingham. This was on 7 March (but I lost it somewhere in my inbox), with the follow up on Saturday 19 March
    I have just read your article about Birmingham’s twin city in the USSR now in Ukraine. I remember it well as I taught at Castle Vale Comp [comprehensive school] in the 1980’s. It was one of only two school that taught Russian in Birmingham and the school organised an exchange with a school in Zaparozhe. A teacher came to teach at Castle Vale Comp for a year. His name was Sergi and he taught History. He came to my Burn’s Supper Evening where he recited with no script, My Love is Like a Red Red Rose both in Russian and in Scots. Then a large group of children did an exchange in both directions. The pupils from Russia [sic – unless from a different place] had a great time as did the pupils who visited Russia. We organised an event for the Lord Mayor at the time and had dancing and tea from a Samovar borrowed from the Digby Pub, Erdington.
    Great times.
    Ann Scott
    I am sorry I do no know the teacher’s full name. He did give me a lovely Russian decorated spoon which I still have. As to the exact year it must have been 1984 or after.
    I did about 10 years ago visit the Black sea and went to Odessa and saw a lot of couples getting wedding photos taken in the park area close to the steps. We also visited Crimea and Sochi, as they were building the area for the Olympics.

  7. Hi Kiron, I stumbled across this by accident while trying to work out whether Zaporizhzhia was the Zaporozhe that I had heard of, but I can add a little more information. Zaporozhe and Birmingham twinned in the 1970s. Birmingham also twinned with Zagreb around the same time, but it would appear that both these twinnings have faded away. However, there was an official visit to Zaporozhe from Birmingham City Council in the mid to late 70s. My father, Neil Scrimshaw, who was then Chairman of education on the council, was part of that visit, which included a tour of a steel works (plus a lot of speeches and toasts). I don’t have much more information than that, but I may be able to work out which year it was. Thanks for putting this potentially forgotten information together.

    1. Many thanks for this, Martin. It is interesting to hear about your father’s visits. Toasts are still a part of Ukrainian (drinking and eating) culture, like in Poland also, though maybe not as much as in Georgia. The city is still very much a metallurgy town (in fact one of the main interchanges at the Dnieper river port (was Lenin Port) end of the several miles long main avenue (was Lenina, now Svoboda, freedom I think) is called Metallurgov. And there are still vast industrial districts in which some of the plants work. You wouldn’t buy fruit or vegetables from the plots in the wind direction of those plants. Otherwise the city is very obviously post Soviet – post Industrial now.

  8. Wow! Just stumbled upon this interesting information as was following up on President Zelensky’s statement 8 May 2022 that Birmingham is twinned with the city. All over the West Midlands and Britain people are gathering aid for the citizens and soldiers of Ukraine and the support that can be given through the friendship of twinned cities shouldn’t be underestimated.Definitely needs to be a huge spread in the Birmingham Mail,maybe there has been articles.Glory to Ukraine.

  9. Thank you very much for this Tessalie. I also noticed that reference to Birmingham in President Zelenskyy’s speech on 8 May. An impressive performance. I am pleased that people are noticing this old link as it is a chance to remind us of the human connections and stories between Birmingham and Ukraine in this case. And as you say, an opportunity to make new modern connections. At home in Liverpool recently I saw much support for Ukraine – flags in many houses, flats and churches in different areas, inner city and suburb and villages. Many businesses big and small collecting for charity aid and relief. Then I was travelling in Albania on holiday and saw much support for Ukraine there as well – Ukraine flags in apartments in Tirana for example. I don’t know if any Birmingham media have reported on the Soviet era links between Zaporizhzhia and Birmingham, I tried several times to get the local BBC interested but they never picked up on my tagging them in tweets. But nice that quite a few Birmingham citizens have taken the time to look this up and some remember it. With best wishes. Kiron

    PS People in Ukraine will not know about all that support in Britain or in Albania for example. I hope they will be a little cheered that both the Liverpool Echo and the Birmingham Mail I see have Ukraine heart shaped flags in their mastheads. Sister newspapers showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

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