From Russia with love

If you think it’s easy to set up a sister city program, talk to Kitty Boniske. “Vladikavkaz was our third try,” the longtime Asheville Sister Cities volunteer recalls. Two other Russian cities—Klintsy and Kislovotz—just didn’t pan out.

Snowy cathedral: The major religions in Asheville’s first Sister City, Vladikavkaz, are Russian Orthodox and Islam. Photo courtesy Constance Richards

Asheville Sister Cities Inc. was established in 1988, during the last of the “bad old Soviet days,” says Boniske. Their first choice was Klintzy, but “They didn’t want us,” she reports. Because it was a major transportation hub, the Soviets seemed concerned that acquiring an American sister city would somehow compromise national security, she recalls.

Next on the list was Kislovotz, a beautiful city that had long been a tourist attraction for its mineral springs, Boniske continues. But Sister Cities International paired it with a little town in Iowa instead.

Then Boniske went to Boone (“for some meeting or other”) and met a woman who was head of the medical school in Vladikavkaz, a large town in the province of North Ossetia, which borders Georgia. Situated in the heart of the Caucasus Mountains, it’s a city of art, folk heritage, glass making, metallurgy and (naturally) vodka.

The rest is history: In 1990, Vladikavkaz became Asheville’s first sister city (having changed its name, in the post-Soviet-era, from Ordzhonikidze). Highlights of the partnership include a “Carload of Caring” in the mid-‘90s (15,000 pounds of food, medical supplies, clothing and blankets) and a 1996 delegation of Russian journalists who toured several Asheville area newspapers, including Mountain Xpress.

In 2004, Asheville Sister Cities raised $12,000 in aid and medical supplies for the village of Beslan, the site of an elementary-school massacre by terrorists. The aid was personally delivered by an Asheville delegation that included local journalist Constance Richards and her husband, artist Vadim Bora, a Vladikavkaz native. “Although the surrounding regions are often in turmoil, Vladikavkaz values the differences in the various cultures [and] religions, and … its citizens do so with great dignity,” says Richards. She was touched by the kindness and generosity shown by the families that hosted the Asheville delegation.

Despite the challenges—including the fact that two Vladikavkaz mayors have been assassinated since 1990—Richards and other Asheville volunteers are following Boniske’s lead and pushing for more interaction. In 2006 and 2007, delegations of Vladikavkaz artists were able to visit Asheville thanks to grants from Open World, a Library of Congress project that focuses on the Baltic region and Eurasian states. Like Sister Cities International, notes Richards, Open World helps “both sides learn and share information.”

Info: Asheville Sister Cities Inc., 33 Page Ave., Asheville NC 28802 (

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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