At the time of writing, it was Day 30 of Ukraine’s heroic resistance to a full-scale Russian invasion. A total of 977 civilian deaths (as of March 24), including 81 children, have been verified by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and an estimated two million people have fled the country. For an insight into life in the war-torn region, we chat with Rotarians from four cities who share their personal stories and how Rotary is assisting throughout the crisis.
n Ukraine, days are no longer referred to by name – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – they are tallied by number: Day 1, Day 10, Day 29 of the Russian invasion.
On Day 1, Past President of the Rotary Club of Kyiv, Oleksii Lukash, woke to his wife informing him the Russian Army had invaded. War had broken on his peace-loving, democratic country, which had won independence only 30 years prior. Oleksii didn’t believe her.
“I couldn’t believe it could happen in the 21st century, so I said, ‘Come on, something’s wrong, let’s go back to bed, it’s not the war. It’s possible something exploded, but it’s not the war. Definitely!’”
It was a fleeting moment of suspended disbelief. Within minutes, Oleksii’s phone was buzzing with calls from friends and colleagues, all confirming the worst.
The Lukash’s watched from their 18th storey apartment in Golosiivskiy district as a mass exodus of the city unfurled. But with his wife due to give birth any day, they chose to stay.
“It was horrible. Every hour we were listening to the air alarms all over the city,” Oleksii recalls. “It was quite tough because my wife was constantly crying, and I was really afraid it would impact the baby.
“After three days we called emergency and she went to the nursery house and luckily everything was fine. But one hour later we were forced to go to the bomb shelter, because once again it was the sirens.”
The situation continued to deteriorate. There was a lack of petrol and a lack of food. Friends of their family were shot.
“From providing blankets and warm socks to families living in the cold, wet underground bomb shelters, to food, supplies and €100 deposits onto bank cards for those hardest hit, the club has been at the forefront of Rotary’s relief efforts in East Ukraine, where approximately half the country is under military action or occupation.”
“They were trying to run, keeping the white flag above themselves, but they were all shot – two kids and parents. Luckily, they survived. We tried to find blood plasma for them.”
Eventually, the Lukash’s moved to the country house of friends, who had already left for West Ukraine. But on the first day there was an explosion directly above the house.
“We found out that the Western Kyiv Airport was too close to the house, so we had to move to the western part of Ukraine,” Oleksii explains.
Despite no longer being in the city, Oleksii is still actively involved in his Rotary club’s projects, which currently centre around supply and support to the city’s military hospitals.
“There are a lot of hurt people, hurt soldiers. We are constantly in touch with the volunteers, the hospitals and the ones who supply medicines to Kyiv.”
The Lukash’s are currently living with friends in Solotvyno, very close to the Romanian border. They gave birth to Elisey, a healthy baby boy on February 26.
Meanwhile, in Kharkiv, which shares a common border with Russia and consequently is one of the hardest hit cities in Ukraine, the Rotary Club of Kharkiv New Level is doing everything it can to support its people.
“Every day, occupants bomb our city,” said club Secretary Iryna Ivanova.
“People don’t have any money. Our factories and houses are ruined. Post offices and public transport don’t work. Business is stopped.
“Kharkiv is huge, approximately two million people live here, and so, as fast as we could, we started our humanitarian projects.”
From providing blankets and warm socks to families living in the cold, wet underground bomb shelters, to food, supplies and €100 deposits onto bank cards for those hardest hit, the club has been at the forefront of Rotary’s relief efforts in East Ukraine, where approximately half the country is under military action or occupation.
“From our Humanitarian Hub, we arranged delivery and placement of goods. We involved volunteers who drive all over the city, but it’s very dangerous for them. We help with medicine, food and goods for babies, and have handed out 80,000 kilograms of chicken and more than €30,000 in €100 card deposits,” Iryna said.
In the UNESCO World Heritage city of Lviv in West Ukraine, more than 200,000 refugees have flooded the streets after fleeing from the East. Approximately 60km from the Polish border, it is also a gateway for those leaving the country.
The Old Town’s historic buildings, churches and sculptures have all been covered with special metal constructions in an effort to protect them from a potential invasion.
Here, the Rotary Club of Lviv International is using its international ties to support both the city and the country as a whole through fundraising and the supply of medical goods for hospitals.
“We have established a special account in Poland where people can transfer money to and then we are providing goods; buying them in Poland and then transferring them to Ukraine,” explains club Public Image Chair Orest Semotiuk. “Our president and some of our members are now in Poland, in Rzeszow and in Warsaw, and we have a special warehouse in Przemyśl where all of the goods can be transported.
“We also have a Facebook page where we are publishing posts. Today we decided to extend our team a bit, and are now supported by Yulia Bitner, Yulia Andrieeva and Rokslolana Yakovets from the Rotaract Club Lviv International. It is very important support because each 10 minutes we are getting messages from people all over the world asking how they can donate.”
On a national scale, District 2232 has formed a Coordinating Committee for the Prevention of Humanitarian Disaster focused on helping victims of the war and coordinating support from Rotary International. Members meet twice a day to discuss how they can assist the people of Ukraine.
PDG Mykola Stebljanko, Ukraine and Belarus Zone 21A Public Image Coordinator and Central and Eastern Europe Coordinator for Foreign Partnerships with Ukraine, says the committee has three main focuses.
“First, we provide help for the hospitals, because now the military action from the Russian Army has inhuman actions and lots of civilians have been injured and lots of hospitals have injured people,” Mykola explains. “We opened special accounts in euros, in dollars, in pounds and in francs, where we received donations from Rotarians, from clubs and from districts to our accounts and we try to obtain medicines for the hospitals because they need these medicines urgently.”
They have also created Rotary Humanitarian Hubs along the Ukraine borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, where humanitarian aid is collated and distributed.
“Lots of countries sent humanitarian help like clothes, food and medicine to Ukraine by planes. The hubs receive all of the supply items and send them across the border to our cities. Then, we have different hubs inside Ukraine near the border regions, where Rotarians distribute this humanitarian help to the cities that are in dire need of aid.”
They are also assisting Rotary refugees in Ukraine, their family and friends, by connecting them with Rotarians in neighbouring countries who will meet them at the border as they leave the country.
While Mykola’s city of Odesa in the south is not yet under military action he says, as an important port city on the Black Sea coast, they are waiting on attack from the sea.
“Each morning we wake up with the thoughts that Navy action could be any moment. We are just waiting for these actions from the sea and that’s a very anxious situation for our city.”
Regardless of the uncertainty and impending danger, Mykola says he will not leave Ukraine.
“I’m already a refugee. I lived in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, for 40 years. But in 2015, I had to leave my native city because of the Russian annexation of Crimea. So, my wife, Olga, and I moved to Odesa. We felt our move to Ukraine would keep us safe. When people ask us why we do not want to leave Odesa and go outside Ukraine, I always answer: We were forced to leave our motherland once. We don’t want to leave our country again. We are Ukrainians and we would like to stay in Ukraine.”
Anyone wishing to contact the District 2232 Coordinating Committee directly can reach PDG Mykola Stebljanko via firstname.lastname@example.org or +380676503018.
The Rotary Foundation The Rotary Foundation has created an official channel for Rotary members and other donors around the world to contribute funds to support relief efforts underway by Rotary districts. The Foundation has designated the Disaster Response Fund as the main avenue for this. Thanks to the generosity of Rotary members and others, as of March 18, the fund has received more than $3.2 million in contributions. These funds are being distributed to Rotary districts that apply for Disaster Response grants and will be used to provide relief to refugees or other victims of the crisis, including items such as water, food, shelter, medicine and clothing. In addition to support provided through the Disaster Response Fund, the Foundation is coordinating with partners and regional leaders, exploring effective solutions to the increased humanitarian needs. They are in contact with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to prepare for and respond to the needs of those being displaced in Ukraine and to neighbouring countries. ShelterBox, our project partner for disaster response, is in communication with Rotary members in Eastern Europe to explore how it may offer support with temporary transitional housing and other essential supplies. The Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration is also mobilising its resources to assist in this crisis. Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund in support of Ukraine can be made via my.rotary.org/en/disaster-response-fund. All funds need to be received into the Disaster Response Fund by April 30, 2022, in order to qualify for use in support of the Ukrainian relief efforts.
RAWCS Ukraine Crisis Appeal The Ukraine Crisis Appeal – a collaboration between the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO), Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) and Caritas Ukraine – has raised $2,193,898 (March 25) of its $5 million goal. Funds will be used to meet immediate lifesaving needs of the civilian population in Ukraine and provide early recovery assistance as soon as feasible, to save and preserve lives, ease suffering and promote self-sufficiency. Tax-deductible donations can be made via bit.ly/3iBjp97
Urgent medical goods for Ukraine Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS), working alongside the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO), is assisting with the International Coordination for Medical Aid for Ukraine, marshalling donations of urgent medical consumables from the medical fraternity in Australia to alleviate the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. RAWCS equipment repurposing activities, MediShare in Sydney, and Donations In Kind (DIK) in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide are the distribution centres for the consumables coming from all areas, including medical suppliers, public and private hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and State and Commonwealth Governments. The AFUO state coordinators arrange for the items to be delivered to the Rotary warehouses and teams of Rotarians are volunteering to sort, package, label and inventory the items, then palletise them ready for transportation. The consumables are delivered to CH2 logistics centres in each state, then freight forwarders deliver to the Qantas bases in Sydney and Melbourne. From there, Qantas flies the goods to London daily, where they are being collected by a group of trucking companies called ‘UK for Ukraine’, which are transporting the consumables across Europe directly to a university in Lviv. The university has transformed into a ‘Humanitarian Hub’ for distributing the much-needed medical aid supplies. The consumables are sorted into smaller lots and provided to hospitals, frontline fighters and the general public as emergency supplies. The consumables include thermo blankets, surgical equipment, compression bandages, gauze, torniquets, Elastoplast tape, micropore tape, bandages, gloves, general first aid items and, sadly, body bags. The AFUO is extremely grateful for the generous assistance of its Australian partners in providing assistance with supplies, logistics, warehousing and airlifts at no cost, including RAWCS, CH2 Clifford Hallam Healthcare and Qantas Airways.