By Sebastian Adami, Rotaract Club Klagenfurt-Wörthersee, Austria
On the evening of 2 March, I set out with a team of Rotaract members and colleagues from six nations to deliver relief supplies to contacts waiting for us near the border of Poland and Ukraine. Our five-vehicle convoy traveled through the night to get there. But we were heartened by the response we saw all around us, people flashing their lights or giving us other signs of encouragement as they saw our relief supply convoy marked by flags that identified what we were doing.
This effort came about through the wonderful network we enjoy in Rotary. Like many, I watched with horror the images coming from Ukraine following the Russian invasion of the country on 24 February. These images included people who had lost everything, their belongings, their homes, and some even the lives of loved ones. The more I witnessed people having to seek refugee in subways or shelters and the flood of displaced people seeking safety in other countries, I knew I had to do something. I contacted friends of mine in the Rotaract Club of Klagenfurt-Wörthersee, and we were all united in our desire to help.
Within a short time, I set up a fundraising campaign with a long-time club member Ivana Tadic and our club president Anna Bäuchler with the active support of our members. In one weekend, we collected many donations from family, friends, and work colleagues including canned food, water, sleeping bags, generators, and medical supplies. The question became how to deliver these items.
As part of our campaign, I had reached out to a former coworker, Alessia Sasina, who was born in Kyiv. She had also been raising donations. But it was not until we both talked to Max Aichlseder that we hit upon the idea of bringing the donations to the Poland-Ukraine border ourselves. He provided us with some vehicles for the transport, with which we could load our own collected donations and those from Alessia. We had reached friends in Ukraine and knew what was needed through the assistance of the Honorary Counsel for Ukraine, Nils Grollitsch, and through our Rotaract network.
Headed for the border
Setting out on 2 March, we drove all night to reach the border the following morning. The closer we got to the border, the calmer we became. We were aware of the situation we were getting ourselves into but we were buoyed by the support we saw around us. For security reasons, we decided to meet our contacts a kilometer before the border crossing.
After more than 1,100 kilometers and 14 hours of driving, we arrived. It was an indescribable feeling I will never forget. The gratitude was amazingly great, and our hearts filled up. From there, the relief goods were transported on to Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Zhytomyr. We unloaded the goods on the spot and agreed to bring back with us some people who had fled the conflict, mainly women and children, exhausted but relieved they had made it to safety after many hours on the road. Before we got back, we were already receiving photos and videos showing that our donations had arrived at hospitals and locations in need.
Since our first campaign was so successful, we put together a second convoy on 15 March. We again coordinated with our contacts from the Rotaract clubs on what was most needed. The atmosphere on the second trip was a bit different than the first. There was much more activity on the roads, and on the way to the border we saw several vehicles heading for Ukraine as aid convoys.
Looking back on the past weeks, I am incredibly proud of what we accomplished together in such a short time. It has been one of the most formative events of my life. We were one of the first, if not the first, aid convoy from Austria to bring goods to Ukraine. We helped as much as we could without hesitating, and with the help of our Rotaract and Rotary contacts, the supplies arrived where they were needed.
The Rotary Foundation has created a channel for direct humanitarian support in the Ukraine region. Follow updates on how Rotary members are providing humanitarian relief on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and on Rotary.org.