In times of peace, we take a lot for granted. There are the obvious things: food, shelter, a peaceful night’s sleep uninterrupted by the sound of distant bombing. There are also some things we don’t even think about. Organizations like the Rotary Club are just one of these services we tend to forget about—until the day they are desperately needed.
When Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Oksana Tjupa was preparing to get a United States visa to attend a Rotary International Convention in Houston. The charter president and secretary of Ukraine’s Rotary Club Kyiv International was about to start on a very different journey: leading humanitarian efforts throughout a war-torn Ukraine.
She was far from alone, though. Rotary Club Kyiv International had a strong network throughout the nation, with 66 local clubs in cities throughout Ukraine ready to act quickly, relocating people, food, medicine, generators and other necessities. Ukraine’s Rotary Clubs also connected the nation to an international network of leaders and community members passionate about fighting for peace, providing food and shelter, and assisting refugees as they struggle to adapt to their unstable situations.
How Rotary Can Help
“From the very first day of war, thousands of Rotarians from different parts of the world started contacting us,” Tjupa says. “They proposed help, relocation, money, medicine and so on.”
The Rotary Club of Wilmington is one of the many clubs working to provide support for Ukraine. Through fundraising efforts here in Delaware, the local Rotary Club hopes to provide more equipment for shelters so those forced out of their homes can live as comfortably as possible until the war is over.
“During war, trust is very important.”
Of course, even with the support of Rotary Clubs all over the world, these efforts have come with many challenges for Tjupa and her team.
“First of all, it’s war. It’s bombing every day,” Tjupa explains. “Every day we have to hide in bomb shelters.”
Along with the bombing, the challenges of life in a warzone seem endless. Citizens face problems with electricity and internet connection, which led to freezing winter nights in shelters and still cause loss of communication with members of their team—some of whom are on the front lines, supplying food and medicine. Uncertainty is rampant in times of war. Along with the loss of communication, it’s hard to know who to trust. With Russia constantly monitoring social media trying to find where people are gathered and connected, getting the word out can be difficult. Rotary Clubs have become part of the solution over the past year.
“During war, trust is very important,” says Tjupa.
That’s exactly what Rotary provides. With fear surrounding the corruption in Ukraine, and public media being a point of caution, Rotary Clubs create a trusted, closed international network. This network is not only eager to help, but is also prepared ahead of time to quickly move funds where they are most needed. Funds can move through the Rotary Clubs’ independent networks without fear of potential government corruption, especially during wartime. Fundraising is no easy task, and the paperwork can be excessive. Accounting was another problem that Ukraine’s Rotary Clubs ran into.
“We were scrambling to save lives,” Tjupa explains. “Nobody was getting our documents in order.”
In the beginning, funds were spent as soon as they hit the account. Delivering necessities like mattresses, heaters, generators, food and medicine was more important than paperwork. They eventually hired an auditing company to go through their documents and ensure everything is filed properly.
“If you’re working with professional big donors, you must be professional also,” Tjupa says.
This is another benefit of Rotary. Most Rotary Club members are over 40, and they’re coming in with decades of professional experience in relevant career fields. Rotary Clubs quickly convert into humanitarian organizations with members prepared to take on project management, logistics, finance and any other business aspect that may be needed. The expertise within the club spans many relevant fields—and all of these experts have shifted their focus to help Ukraine’s displaced citizens and refugees.
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The People of Ukraine
Even in these trying times, the Ukrainian people are hopeful. This hope manifests itself in a passion for contributing to the war effort and a willingness to share their stories.
A young woman named Julia joined the Zoom call with Oksana Tjupa to offer a look at her life since the start of the war.
“Russia doesn’t like beauty. Russia likes to destroy.”
“This is my home,” she states simply. Julia describes herself as one of the lucky ones. She says her home was left with only a couple of holes in the roof. They repaired the roof, and continue to live there. Her camera lands on cracked streets, fallen structures and rubble from what were once residences in a neighborhood just outside Kyiv.
“That is where my neighbors lived.” She doesn’t know what happened to them, but she hopes they are safe. She walks down the street, panning around to show us the remains of her neighborhood. “You can see those trees,” she says as she walks. “This place was very beautiful.”
She turns the camera back to herself to wrap up her portion of our Zoom meeting.
“Russia doesn’t like beauty. Russia likes to destroy.”
Another Ukrainian woman, Olga, echoes this sentiment. She and her two sons are staying in North Carolina, where they try to live a normal life despite being a world away from their home and the rest of their family.
“Even now, it is difficult to believe in the situation,” Olga explains. “Our country was very beautiful. It was amazing, especially our city. It was the first capitol of Ukraine…we have a beautiful square, the biggest square in Europe. Each winter, we have a big Christmas tree, it was a big event…Very beautiful. Also each year there was ice for skating. We have three parks, and they are beautiful. So, I miss this.”
Her sons often ask her what they will do after the war. They attend school in North Carolina and enjoy the independence but miss their home. Olga—a former cardiovascular surgeon, radiologist and nutritionist—would have to start school again to continue her work here in the United States. With uncertainty about the situation, it’s hard for her to imagine what the future holds, but she’s optimistic.
“The more conversation I have of this topic, it becomes easier for my mental health.”
The Rotary Club of Wilmington will hold a special fundraising event on May 18 in support of The Rotary Club of Kyiv International. Wilmington’s Rotary Club is committed to raising $200,000 to support the Ukrainian people in these desperate times. Her Excellency, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova will speak via Zoom to those present at the dinner. Options to donate and more information about this event can be found online.