By Emory Morsberger, Rotary Club of Gwinnett County, Georgia, USA
Isn’t it a privilege to be a Rotarian who can actually serve others and make a difference in someone else’s life – and even more so if that life is on the other side of the world? I think so! I hope to rally fellow Rotarians on 24 August to join our movement, Helping Ukraine.
In 1998, I took a trip to Ukraine and have been yearning to go back since. The people there are so excited about their freedom. When the war broke out in February, I felt a strong call to do something to help these free-spirited people. I had been hearing about the massive destruction and wanted to do more than make donations.
When Chris Brand, a member of Rotary and President of Friends of Disabled Adults and Children (FODAC) in Tucker, Georgia, USA, called me one morning to tell me there was an urgent need to take Stryker Drill Sets and other medical relief supplies over to the war-torn country, it was just the call I had been waiting for. Without hesitation, I said, “I’ll go.” On 6 June, I boarded a flight to Bucharest, Romania, and began my journey to Ukraine.
The cry for help is real. Through a relay of Rotarians from Ukraine to Atlanta and back, our mission came together. We coined it The Great Rotarian Relay, and it has connected individual Rotary members around the world.
We have been guided by Dr. Olha Paliychuk, a member of the Rotary Club of Cherkasy, who is also a member of the International Rotary Fellowship of Healthcare Professionals. She has been letting us know their needs including surgical drill sets, supplies to care for wounds, and incubators for babies born prematurely.
While I was on my way to Bucharest, Rotary members in Atlanta organized a shipment of 12,000 pounds of medical equipment from the FODAC warehouse and shipped 37 pallets from Atlanta to Munich. The Atlanta UPS shipped the pallets to the airport for free and Delta cut the cargo cost in half. From Munich, they were trucked into Romania, eventually headed for 14 different hospitals in Ukraine.
I met Rotarians from Ukraine in Suceava, Romania, and drove with them across the border into Chernvitsi. Air sirens were blaring overhead as we handed out food and other supplies like diapers and formula to the refugees.
Oddly enough, I was not fearful; I felt I was meant to be there. Handing out the diapers really got to me. I have brought up seven daughters and now have grandchildren. One thing you have in common when you have kids around is diapers.
In Moschun north of Kiev, I talked to three different people whose homes had been obliterated by shelling. One man stood by his burned-out car explaining how his son had left their dream house a week before it got hit. He explained how anxious he was to get back and rebuild.
In another home, a Ukrainian showed me the charred basement where he had housed 28 of his neighbors for two weeks as the Russians pressed in, before tanks got too close and they all had to leave, escaping alive.
In Kyiv, I delivered the Stryker Drill Set to the surgical team at the Kyiv hospital where they would use them to treat shrapnel wounds. I had brought them over in my luggage as each set is worth close to $12,000. They had tears in their eyes. And I had tears in my eyes. I could see how much the equipment meant to them. Inspecting the set, it was clear Dr. Alexander knew way more about these drills than I did.
From Kyiv, I traveled to Cherkasy and met with Dr. Paliychuk, who has been like the Florence Nightingale of Ukraine, working tirelessly to continue relief efforts to her city and the surrounding hospitals.
The list of needs will continue until peace is reached in Ukraine. The rebuilding of this beautiful country, rich with history and culture and home to 41 million people, will take years. Our efforts are now focusing on 24 August, Ukrainian Independence Day.
We are holding a 24-hour telethon to collect donations from around the world. We are especially appealing to the many Rotary clubs who have already demonstrated their support for Ukraine through their generous donation of more than $15 million to The Rotary Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund. Together, we are united in this cause.
The 24-hour broadcast will tell the story of life in Ukraine today, those who have escaped the country and those who are still held hostage within the boundaries of the war-torn country. We are working with Voice of America to share our broadcast with their daily audience of 30 million people. Isn’t that incredible? Please join us by tuning in online and by learning more about our effort at helpingukraine.us.