Russian sister city delegates take home lessons of Duluth Model

Domestic violence is a crime in Russia, the deputy mayor of Duluth's sister city in that country said Friday. But if you asked Russians in the street about it, you might get mixed reactions. "Say you would stop a man on the street and ask him thi...

Marina Shuets and Tatiana Kornstad
Marina Shuets talks Friday about domestic violence in her home country of Russia through interpreter Tatiana Kornstad. Shuets was one of several Russian women to attend a weeklong training session at Duluth's Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. She is the deputy mayor of health, social work and environment in Petrozavodsk. Kornstad is originally from Russia and now works at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Naomi Yaeger /

Domestic violence is a crime in Russia, the deputy mayor of Duluth's sister city in that country said Friday.

But if you asked Russians in the street about it, you might get mixed reactions.

"Say you would stop a man on the street and ask him this question," said Marina Shuets, speaking through interpreter Tatiana Kornstad of the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "Most probably the answer would be, 'What? What are you talking about?' Now if you talk to a woman in the street, they would probably admit that yes, this problem exists."

Shuets is part of a 10-woman delegation from Petrozavodsk completing a weeklong stay in Duluth today, where they've been learning about the "Duluth Model" as a way of responding to domestic violence. Although Petrozavodsk and Duluth are sister cities, the delegation was here specifically under the auspices of Open World Leadership Center.

Open World, funded as part of the Library of Congress, is an exchange program with nations of the former Soviet Union intended to develop "a network of leaders in the region who have gained significant, firsthand exposure to America's democratic, accountable government and its free-market system," according to its mission statement.


Cherie Sawinski of the Duluth Sister Cities board said this was the fourth Open World group Duluth Sister Cities hosted. Previous groups consisted of five delegates plus one facilitator, but twice as big a group was sought for this subject, she said.

"We felt that we had to have that many people receive the training in order to really effect change when they go home," Sawinski said.

In addition to Shuets, a doctor by training; the delegation included another doctor, several social workers, a child psychologist, a law student, a legal advocate and two people from law enforcement, Sawinski said.

"We wanted a multidisciplinary team so they could create a plan that could function when they go home," she said. "They didn't all know each other when they came, and they formed a wonderful team in the course of one week."

The group gathered on Friday in the conference room of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, 202 E. Superior St., the home of the widely imitated Duluth Model for combating domestic violence. Their focus was on finding ways to bring some of what they learned in Duluth to Petrozavodsk.

There are barriers, Shuets acknowledged. Even though domestic violence is treated as a very serious crime in Russia, legal reforms are needed. Financing is needed to set up shelters for victims. People "on top of the pyramid" need to become interested in the problem. And law enforcement officers and social workers need to be educated to "approach the victims of domestic violence in the right way."

"Having the knowledge that we got firsthand from our trainers hopefully will help us to challenge the barriers," Shuets said.

At the end of the last Open World program with a group from Petrozavodsk, the delegation requested that the next topic be domestic violence, Sawinski said. It took a year and a half to put it together. All of the delegates from Petrozavodsk made sacrifices to spend the week in Duluth, some taking leaves from their jobs.


"They are very charged up, and I believe they are identifying short-term and longer-term changes that they can work on," Sawinski said. "They've figured out some things they can do quickly with resources that they have."

Linda Riggle, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, told the delegates their commitment to bringing change to Petrozavodsk was an inspiration in Duluth.

"Our eyes and ears and hearts and minds have been opened this week, and we want to continue a relationship with you," Riggle said. "Another way that we talk about a movement to end violence against women in particular is sisterhood. And we will do our work in Duluth better knowing that we have sisters in Petrozavodsk doing this work, too."

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