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Rotary responds: support for Ukraine

The Rotary Foundation and Rotary clubs around the world have hurried to provide funds, supplies, and services to Ukrainians displaced by the war.

The Rotary Foundation has raised more than $15 million in contributions that are already helping provide people in Ukraine with essential items such as water, food, shelter, medicine, and clothing. Donations made to the Disaster Response Fund after 30 April will be available to all communities around the world that need assistance recovering from disasters.

Rotary members and other volunteers pack donated supplies at a rented warehouse in Zamosc, Poland, a major hub for refugees and a centralized coordination location for aid from clubs in Europe.
Monika Lozinska

A family that stands by you

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Iryna Bushmina fled her home in Kyiv and journeyed to Vienna, Austria, staying with Rotary members along the way. Their generosity inspired Bushmina, a member of the Rotaract Club of Kyiv-City, to organize a larger-scale relief effort — and now, she works with Rotaract Europe to find shelter for thousands of refugees through a website called United for Peace.

"I used to just say that Rotary International is a big family. Now I really believe it," Bushmina says. "And I am convinced that this is a family that will stand by you."

Music for peace

Olena Bondarenko Hiraishi grew up in the city of Dnipro in eastern Ukraine. Her father is Ukrainian, and her mother is Russian. At the age of 21, she moved to Hiroshima, Japan, where she met her husband, Masashi, a member of the Rotary Club of Hiroshima Southwest. When the war against Ukraine broke out, Satoshi Saginaw, then governor of District 2710, invited her to talk with the Hiroshima Southwest club. Bondarenko Hiraishi connected the Japanese club with Rotary leaders in Ukraine to assist in the relief work.

Her youngest son, who studies the violin, also joined the effort — through music. He and a pianist friend performed at a series of chamber music concerts in the spring, and the proceeds have gone to support Ukrainians.

"I think music is a universal language that can be understood by people from any country," she says. "My son says he will play it with the utmost prayer for peace."

Lessons from a hurricane hot spot

"Maria, Dorian, Michael..." Padraic E. "Pat" Mulvihill is rattling off a list of the hurricanes he's responded to as a disaster relief coordinator for his Rotary district (6970) in northeast Florida. The storm-tested logistics networks he has helped set up are what have made Rotary members in the Jacksonville, Florida, area so effective at responding to the war against Ukraine, including helping find housing for around 140 refugees.

"We have the institutional knowledge already in place and the infrastructure," explains Mulvihill, a semiretired business executive who has served as an infantry officer, paratrooper, and Green Beret in the U.S. Army Reserve.

His district's Rotary clubs have raised more than $95,000 for Ukraine relief efforts. They have channeled food, protective equipment, and EMT supplies to Ukraine. They even organized a day at the Jacksonville Zoo for the children of refugee families.

The war in Ukraine brought the Rotary community even closer together. During this difficult time, you can rely on Rotary. We are a big family.
Wojciech Wrzecionkowski, 2021-22 governor of District 2231 (Poland)

Rotary clubs unite across continents

Rotary members in North America, South America, and Europe have collaborated with a U.S.-based association of Ukrainian health care workers and used their connections to collect and ship more than 350 tons of critical medical supplies to Ukraine. As of May, five cargo planes packed with medical supplies such as tourniquets, blood-clotting gauze, negative pressure wound therapy equipment, and medications have been flown from Chicago to Europe, where members have helped deliver them to Ukraine. "It is Rotary doing what Rotary does best. It networks, pulls people together, and gets the job done," says RI Director Pat Merryweather-Arges, who has helped coordinate the shipments.

North American and Argentine Rotary clubs combined their resources to purchase medical supplies and worked with pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers to arrange donations. For example, a hospital in Peoria, Illinois, sent an ambulance and networked with others to have seven ambulances shipped to Ukraine.

Supplies streamed into a warehouse operated by the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Rotary clubs in Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa collected supplies to ship to the warehouse.

"It's amazing what one Rotarian talking to another Rotarian can accomplish," says Marga Hewko, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Chicago. Rotary clubs in Ukraine are leading relief efforts

Ukraine has 62 Rotary clubs and seven satellite clubs — about 1,100 members in total, as well as 25 Rotaract clubs that combined have more than 300 members. The Rotary Club of Cherkasy purchased medical supplies and medicine and delivered them to local hospitals. Members of the Rotary Club of Kharkiv International have traveled to border countries to help refugees adapt to their new situations and have worked, through their project Yellow Help, to evacuate families near war zones.

The Rotary Club of Kyiv Synergy collected 350 boxes of medical supplies from Italy and distributed them to areas within Kyiv and Sumy.

The Rotary Club of Kyiv-Sophia prepared hot meals and delivered them to residents of Kyiv and its suburbs of Irpin and Bucha. Members purchased hygiene products and medicine and delivered them to young mothers and the elderly.

Krystyna Wilczynska Ciemega (second from left), a member of the Rotary Club of Pulawy, Poland, hosts two Ukrainian mothers and their children in her home. Monika Lozinska

Rotary relief efforts in Europe

Poland has taken in more than 3 million refugees, and Rotary clubs all over the country created a central account for contributions. The Rotary Club of Olsztyn collected and managed donations for more than 150 Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are unaccompanied children whose parents stayed in Ukraine. Four cars full of supplies including food, clothes, toiletries, and toys were donated to a local refugee center hours after it began accepting refugees.

Also in Poland, members of the Rotary Clubs of Zamosc and Wolsztyn partnered with other organizations to collect supplies and equipment. Members of the Rotary Club of Gdansk Centrum have provided accommodations and jobs for four refugee families. In Germany, the Rotary Club of Berlin Platz der Republik, supported by the Rotary Club of Berlin International and the Rotary E-Club of Wall Street New York, has developed a housing-specific platform called Spaces for Ukraine. Nearly 400 refugees have found homes through the site, and 925 host families have registered.

In Hungary, the Rotary Club of Kisvárda coordinated contributions and mobilized members to donate necessities and deliver the items to where they're needed. Rotary members in Romania and Moldova used WhatsApp to organize shelter for refugees. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, clubs partnered with a railway and cargo company to transport some 2,300 refugees to safety.

This story originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of Rotary magazine.

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