Former Sunderland mayor remembers meeting with visitors from tragic Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk

A former Sunderland mayor has spoken of his meeting 15 years ago with a fellow mayor from a town now blighted by tragedy.

When Les Scott was Mayor of Sunderland in 2007, he met a delegation of people from Kremenchuk in Ukraine, led by his opposite number Bogdan Heshehenko. The party made an unexpected visit to the nuclear bunker below Sunderland Civic Centre.

Mr Scott, who was a councillor for the St Chad’s ward for many years, was reminded of the visit after reading a feature on the bunker in the Echo, subsequently emailing the paper with a related anecdote.

Four days after the email was sent, a Russian missile struck a crowded shopping centre in Kremenchuk, an industrial city in the Poltova Oblast (Province) of Ukraine with a population slightly smaller than Sunderland’s.

Former Mayor of Sunderland Les Scott. Picture by Stu Norton.

The missile has killed at least 18 people and injured dozens more, with Ukraine's President Zelensky saying it was "one of the most brazen terrorist acts in European history.”

It had particular resonance for Mr Scott, who said: “It makes that war slightly personal. Knowing someone, even for a relatively short period of time, still makes you wonder what those people are going through.

“I would love to know what happened to Bogdan. I noticed in the Times that there’s still a mayor of Kremenchuk. I was waiting for Kremenchuk to come into the news.

“It’s so arbitrary as well. A missile coming out of nowhere and killing people. That’s what they’re capable of. I find it very difficult to understand.”

Mr Scott still treasures this memento of Kremenchuk, presented to him in 2007.

Mr Scott fondly remembers the 2007 visit. He said: “We would get quite a number of people from around the world visiting Sunderland. The mayor of Kremenchuk, Bogdan, came with a small party.

“They were in the UK looking at traditional parks and Mowbray Park had just won awards. It was quite an experience. He actually looked like Mikhail Gorbachev.

“We got on very well. I took him onto the roof of the Civic Centre and into the Mayor’s Office. But a fire alarm went off and we had to decant onto the green.

“We were coming back and walking past the nuclear bunker entrance and I explained what it was. I pointed at Bogdan and said ‘It was when you were pointing missiles at us.’”

This flag in Sunderland Minster shows the city's solidarity with Ukraine.

Ukraine had formerly been part of the USSR during the Cold War.

Mr Scott continued: “I assured him it hadn’t been used for years and that there was just an old piano in there. It caught the moment and he saw the funny side.

“He later sat in the mayor’s chair in the chamber and he was intrigued by the gavel that the mayor uses to keep order. He was also very impressed with the mayor’s chain.

Read More

Read More
'Decadent' new Sunderland burger named after Edwardian architect part of new foo...

“He invited me to Kremenchuk and gave me a little Ukrainian memento. I keep in displayed in my hallway.”

Mr Scott never did visit Kremenchuk and has no idea what happened to Mayor Bogdan Heshehenko. Sadly no pictures are known to have been taken of their meeting in Sunderland.