Estonian ambassador visits Cumberland as part of sister city relationship

Feb. 24—CUMBERLAND, Md. — Cumberland received a visit Thursday from the ambassador of its eastern European sister city of Vilijandi, Estonia.

Ambassador Kristjan Prikk traveled to the area from the Estonian Embassy in Washington, making stops at several area businesses and educational centers during his daylong visit.

"As much as I love my work as a diplomat in Washington, I really cherish every opportunity to get outside the beltway to go see the places — and most importantly, the people — to see what keeps them happy and what keeps them concerned," Prikk said on his stop at the Western Maryland Works Makerspace facility on Lane Avenue in LaVale.

Cumberland officials established the sister city relationship with Vilijandi in 2013 via Skype, a video and voice conferencing technology created in Estonia.

"Since Cumberland is a sister city to Vilijandi, I wanted to make sure that I was able to learn more about it," Prikk said. "I've been amazed with the Cumberland area and hope to return not only for official reasons but with my wife and three kids to enjoy it. I'm happy to see a thriving community and see the companies and the training that is happening."

During the Makerspace visit, Prikk said, "I'm inspired by the training opportunities I'm seeing. This facility is creating a chance for people to see what are the opportunities and what are the expectations from industry and what they can learn to be successful."

The Makerspace is operated through Allegany College of Maryland workforce training. David Smarik, Western Maryland Works coordinator, and Becky Ruppert, director of career and employer solutions for ACM, were part of the group that gave Prikk a tour of the facility.

"We thoroughly enjoyed his visit and excited that he came," Ruppert said. "We were able to show him all the things we are doing with workforce development and our Makerspace. He was really interested in the 3D printing, so that was exciting to be able to share that with him."

In addition to 3D printing, Ruppert said the Makerspace offers workforce development in welding, machining and robotics. Students can receive as many as 20 certifications in various specialties and up to 39 college credit hours.

"It was a wonderful thrill to see the ambassador," Smarik said. "He had a lot of questions and showed interest in our digital fabrication with our laser cutters and different CNC machines we have."

Estonia is a small eastern European nation of 1.3 million people along the Baltic Sea south of Finland. It shares a border with Russia. Prikk spoke about the war occurring in the Ukraine.

"We are thankful for U.S. attention," Prikk said. "It's for the entire West to make sure that this war won't end up with aggression legitimized as a tool.

"What is happening is a tragedy," he said. "There has been more than 100,000 people killed and hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure destroyed. What is going on is a colonial imperial war against a neighboring country, which will define the future of transAtlantic security.

"It is important not only for the people of Ukraine. After all, President (Vladimir) Putin is not only after Ukraine but he is after the international security architecture that has been built since World War II. Ultimately, he is after the position of the United States. They consider the U.S. as their peer competitor."

Prikk said Estonia is doing a lot to help, although they are a small country.

"We are receiving refugees from Ukraine as well as giving them aid," Prikk said. "We are the number one country per capita basis in its contribution. Our contribution to translate into U.S figures in terms of defensive aid would be around $230 billion. So we are small but we are doing whatever we can do to make sure that Putin will not win this war. It is not only about Ukraine but it has wider implication in Europe, Asia and in America."

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email and follow him on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.