The Rotary Foundation and Rotary clubs around the world have rushed to provide funds, supplies, and services to Ukrainians displaced by the war.
The Rotary Foundation has raised more than $15 million in donations, which are already helping to provide basic necessities such as water, food, shelter, medicine and clothing to people in Ukraine. Donations to the Disaster Response Fund after April 30 are available to any community around the world in need of disaster recovery assistance.
A family that stands by you
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Iryna Bushmina fled her native Kyiv and traveled to Vienna, Austria, staying with Rotary members along the way. Her generosity inspired Bushmina, a member of the Kyiv City Rotaract Club, to organize a major relief effort — and now she’s working 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 one big family. Now I really believe it,” says Bushmina. “And I’m convinced that this is a family that stands 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 a meeting with the Hiroshima Southwest Club. Bondarenko Hiraishi brought the Japanese club together with Rotary leaders in Ukraine to help with the relief work.
Her youngest son, who studies 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 went to helping Ukrainians.
“I think music is a universal language that can be understood by people from all countries,” she says. “My son says he will play it with greatest prayer for peace.”
Lessons from a hurricane hotspot
“Maria, Dorian, Michael…” Padraic E. “Pat” Mulvihill rattles off a list of hurricanes he has responded to as disaster relief coordinator for his Rotary District (6970) in northeast Florida. The storm-tested logistics networks he helped build are what made Rotary members in the Jacksonville, Florida area so effective in responding to the war in Ukraine, including helping find shelter for about 140 refugees.
“We already have the institutional knowledge and infrastructure,” said Mulvihill, a semi-retired businessman who served as an infantry officer, paratrooper, and green beret in the US Army Reserves.
The Rotary clubs in his district have raised more than $95,000 for relief efforts in Ukraine. They have channeled food, protective gear and EMT supplies into Ukraine. They even organized a day at the Jacksonville Zoo for the children of refugee families.
Rotary clubs unite across continents
Rotary members in North America, South America and Europe worked with a US-based association of Ukrainian health workers and used their connections to collect and ship more than 350 tons of essential medical supplies to Ukraine.
As of May, five cargo planes carrying medical supplies such as tourniquets, gauze, negative pressure wound therapy equipment and medicines have been flown from Chicago to Europe, where members have helped with deliveries to Ukraine.
“Rotary does what Rotary does best. It connects, brings people together, and gets the job done,” said RI director Pat Merryweather-Arges, who helped coordinate the shipments.
North American and Argentine Rotary clubs combined their resources to purchase medical supplies and worked with pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to arrange donations. For example, a hospital in Peoria, Illinois sent an ambulance and networked with others to ship seven ambulances to Ukraine.
Supplies poured 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 were gathering supplies to ship to the warehouse.
“It’s amazing what a Rotarian can accomplish by talking to another Rotarian,” said Marga Hewko, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Chicago.
Rotary clubs in Ukraine are leading the relief effort
Ukraine has 62 Rotary clubs and seven satellite clubs—a total of approximately 1,100 members—and 25 Rotaract clubs, which together have more than 300 members.
The Rotary Club of Cherkassy purchased medical supplies and medicines and delivered them to local hospitals. Members of the Rotary Club of Kharkiv International have traveled to border countries to help refugees adjust to their new situation and have worked to evacuate families near war zones through their Yellow Help project.
The Rotary Club of Kyiv Synergy collected 350 boxes of medical supplies from Italy and distributed them to areas in Kyiv and Sumy.
The Kyiv-Sophia Rotary Club prepared and delivered hot meals to residents of Kyiv and the suburbs of Irpin and Bucha. Members bought hygiene items and medicines and distributed them to young mothers and the elderly.
Rotary relief efforts in Europe
Poland has taken in more than 3 million refugees, and Rotary clubs across the country have set up a central donation account. The Rotary Club of Olsztyn raised 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, clothing, toiletries and toys, were donated to a local refugee center hours after it began taking in refugees.
Also in Poland, members of the Rotary Clubs of Zamosc and Wolsztyn joined with other organizations to collect supplies and equipment. Members of the Rotary Club Gdańsk Centrum provided housing and jobs for four refugee families.
In Germany, the Rotary Club Berlin Platz der Republik, with the support of the Rotary Club Berlin International and the Rotary E-Club Wall Street New York, has developed a housing-specific platform called Spaces for Ukraine. Almost 400 refugees have found homes through the site and 925 host families have registered.
In Hungary, the Rotary Club of Kisvárda coordinated donations and mobilized members to donate essentials and get the items where they were needed. Rotary members in Romania and Moldova used WhatsApp to organize shelters for refugees. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, clubs worked with a rail and freight company to get around 2,300 refugees to safety.
This story originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of rotating Magazine.