Friendship Force International has partnered with the Congressional Office for International Leadership since 1999 to provide hosting and programming for the Open World Program, an exchange program funded by US Congress for countries of the post-Soviet era. Our clubs in the United States have hosted and built lasting friendships with hundreds of young professionals in Ukraine, Russia, and their neighboring countries through the Open World Program.

At Friendship Force, we have been deeply distressed following the news of the escalating conflict that has evolved into a war in Ukraine. It was difficult and painful to watch as hope for a diplomatic resolution slipped away. As the Coordinator of our Open World programs, I have been thinking of past Open World delegations from both Ukraine & Russia. Our alumni are journalists, teachers, doctors, policy analysts, prosecutors, park rangers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, and more. We hope for their safety while knowing that many are undoubtedly now living through the horrors of war.

If you have hosted an Open World delegate or participated in a program in the past, I urge you to reach out to your alumni to let them know we are thinking about them and to see how we can support them. Please keep us updated about your alumni and their families if you hear from them. Because Open World is a congressionally-funded program, the Open World alumni perspective is valuable to members of Congress. As constituents, I encourage you to help amplify the voices of our alumni in Ukraine by contacting your elected officials and advocating on their behalf.

Our hearts are with all of the Open World delegates that our organization has hosted over the past 22 years as well as all of our Friendship Force members in the region. Along with our friends who coordinate the Open World Programs at COIL, we stand with all Ukrainians and Russians who are hoping for peace.

Britton Holmes
Friendship Force International

FFI’s Britton Holmes (right) with Ukrainian Public Policy & Governance Delegates hosted by Friendship Force Big Canoe/North Georgia, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA, October 2019. Photo courtesy of Bob Anderson, FF Big Canoe/North Georgia

Read below for the official statement from the Congressional Office for International Leadership:

Dear Friends of the Open World program,

This is a very sad and trying time for Ukraine, your hosting communities, and all of us at the Congressional Office for International Leadership. We are in the process of seeing our recent delegation of war veterans and those that serve victims of war from Ukraine return home early from their programs due to the hostilities that started in that country in the early morning hours of Thursday, February 24th. As of today all of our participants are either en route to or in Ukraine. They are returning in service to their country.

Be assured that we stand ready to work with our alumni in Ukraine to design programming for the benefit of an even better, freer, and more successful Ukraine in the future. That day will come – we are sure of that.

Meanwhile, COIL’s programs for Russia and Belarus have been suspended. Please understand that this is not a punitive act, but a safety measure. We are deeply concerned for the well-being of Russian alumni who have put themselves at great risk by voicing their opposition to their country's aggression and violation of international law.

We stand with our friends throughout Ukraine and all Open World program countries. We will continue to work closely with Congress to make sure that they hear our alumni’s voices. Please keep us informed about your alumni and their families if and when they reach out to you. We wish you and them all the very best.

With warmest regards,

Jane Sargus
Executive Director, Congressional Office for International Leadership



In letters to Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin,

Ukrainian and Russian Friendship Force clubs urge peace

Open World Program hopes for peace and mutual understanding 

    ATLANTA, GA (Feb. 14, 2022) – In a joint letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Friendship Force International Clubs in Ukraine and Russia urge the two leaders to seek a diplomatic solution to a war that could engulf the entire region, if not the world.

    “I have been a Friendship Force Club member since 1996. 25 years in the club taught me to understand the difference between nations and governments. I have many friends on all continents.  I hope there will be peace!” declared Ukrainian Tanya Zgodinskaya.

“Especially in the conditions of the current international tension, it is important to maintain face-to-face contacts and dialogue between people of different countries in order for them to get to know and understand each other better to avoid conflicts,” observed Russian Elena Parubochaya, Director of the Center for Public Diplomacy, Assistant Professor, Volgograd State University. “In addition, the dialogue between people makes it possible to deepen the cultural interaction of cities and countries, to reveal the country's humanitarian potential in the international arena.”

The Congressional Office of International Leadership (COIL), sponsors of the Open World program, added: “We strive to promote authentic dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding in all countries.  At this critical time, personal ties and aspirations together help to bring people together to work for the common good. All of us at COIL hope for peace and understanding.”

The letters were delivered by FedEx to Biden at the White House and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, with a request to transmit to Putin.

Headquartered in Atlanta since its founding in 1977, Friendship Force International has provided a process for tens of thousands of people in almost 70 countries around the world to get to know each other through homestay journeys that generate mutual respect, understanding, and friendships that contribute to a more peaceful world.

“Members of our Russian and Ukrainian clubs, and indeed members of our more than 300 clubs worldwide, know the value of kitchen table diplomacy, as our founder Wayne Smith put it,” said Jeremi Snook, CEO of Friendship Force International. “They reject the notion that military force can ever solve the world’s problems and are dedicated to our motto that a world of friends can be a world of peace.”

Here is the body of the letters:


Dear Messrs. President:

For 45 years, Friendship Force International has promoted world peace through personal friendships and travel homestays among Friendship Force clubs in more than 70 nations around the world, including Russia and Ukraine. 

We are writing to you to express the profound, serious concerns of our Russian and Ukrainian clubs, and indeed the more than 300 Friendship Force clubs globally, that an unnecessary war between Russia and Ukraine has the potential to escalate into a regional, if not global, conflict.

You both know that although in war there are victors and vanquished, in fact, everyone loses. 

In our more than four decades of promoting peace through personal interaction, Friendship Force has learned that through sincere and open communication, people who recognize and even appreciate their differences can reach the common ground of understanding, and even friendship. 

Thus, in the name of humanity, our Friendship Force clubs in Ukraine and Russia, and more than 15,000 members of Friendship Force around the world urge you – beseech you – to back away from the brink and continue a constructive dialogue that will reduce tensions, deescalate mobilization and sow seeds of eventual peace between Ukraine and Russia. 

Most sincerely,

Jeremi Snook


Friendship Force International

Tanya Zgodinskaya 

Friendship Force Ukraine

Elena Parubochaya 

Friendship Force Russia

This complete article was originally published on on February 23 and then republished on March 1, 2022

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software