LEADERS in Barnsley have pledged their support to their twin-town counterparts in Ukraine after a 35-year association with the wartorn nation.

Barnsley established twinning links with Horlivka, a large mining town, in 1987 but the partnership stretches back to the height of the Cold War in May 1956 when a delegation of miners stayed in the Donetsk town during a study tour of the Soviet Union.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton, Coun Hannah Kitching - leader of the local Liberal Democrat contingent - and Coun John Wilson of the Conservatives responded after Vladimir Putin’s Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

“We’re deeply saddened by what’s happening in Ukraine,” their joint statement said.

“Our sympathy goes out to the people of Ukraine, and our thoughts are with the community representatives in Horlivka with whom we have developed twinning links.

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“We send all our thoughts and hope to the people of Ukraine, that they come through this incredibly difficult time.

“We trust the western allies can find ways and means of freeing the people of Ukraine from this oppression and that our friends and colleagues in Horlivka can once again enjoy the freedom that they deserve, away from tyranny and terror.

“It is an incredibly difficult time, and anything that we think is difficult in this country pales into insignificance when you see what the people of Ukraine are now having to endure.

“People of Ukraine need as much help as they can get and you can show your support by donating to UNICEF, or any other charity, carrying out humanitarian efforts.”

Town twinning is a special friendship agreement between two communities, in different countries, supported by both local councils.

Twinned communities organise projects and activities, such as exchange visits, that help them understand their historical and cultural similarities and differences.

Similar visits took place in 1972 and in 1984 prior to the official agreement being signed between Barnsley and Horlivka, when the delegation included the late Ron Rigby, former leader of Barnsley Council.

In 1987 mayor elect, Coun Roy Warden, visited and signed the official town twinning agreement, followed by a similar ceremony in Barnsley in 1988.

Several exchange visits have since taken place with mayors, allowing the two communities to share information and knowledge.

Sir Steve added: “Those links developed over many years with support from the European Union, and we’re proud to have had friends in that part of the world who came to Barnsley, and indeed many members from this organisation went to visit them.

“Unfortunately eight years ago a civil war broke out in the east of the country, and those links since that time have been no more.

“It’s the innocent men, women and children who are not involved in armed forces or armed conflict, who will be the biggest victims of everything that is happening.

“I hope they come through this incredibly difficult time, and condemn the actions of Russia.

“I hope our friends and colleagues there can once again enjoy the freedom they deserve, and we can maybe at some point in the future restore that friendship that once was ours.”