By Olena Bondarenko Hiraishi
I grew up in the city of Dnipro in the eastern part of Ukraine with my father, who is Ukrainian and my mother, who is Russian. When I was 21, I moved to Japan to study while working for a water distillation company in Hiroshima city.
Soon after, I met Masashi, an active member of the Rotary Club of Hiroshima Southwest. We now have three teenage boys. It was through my husband that I came to know Rotary. Seven years ago, we traveled to Vietnam and support orphanages there through his club.
Two years ago, I moved to Hanover, Germany, where my youngest son studies violin in a music institute for gifted children. In late February, while we were visiting Japan, the horrible war against Ukraine broke out. I became very desperate and worried because I have relatives and close friends there. Some in Kyiv and Dnipro. Others are stuck in Maruipol and Donetsk.
I called my family in Ukraine. My cousin, Oleh Potinin, who currently lives in a safe zone near Dnipro, is organizing medical supplies for hospitals and for people who have escaped from the war zones and suffered injuries. Dnipro has turned into a huge hub for refugees, where the hospitals are full and are in desperate need of medical supplies.
Music is a universal language that can be understood by people from any country.
Satoshi Sugikawa, governor of District 2710 and also a member of the Hiroshima Southwest club, arranged for me to deliver a speech to the club, appealing for humanitarian assistance. As far as I know, they were already doing fundraising activities and had already raised $50,000, as well as donating funds to The Rotary Foundation.
With the situation becoming more dire by the day, I decided to contact Rotary clubs in Ukraine, to assure our aid would quickly and directly reach those in need, Due to my language skills and my familiarity with Ukraine, the Rotary club in Japan asked me to connect them with the Rotary leadership in Ukraine and find out what specific support is needed.
I got hold of Volodymyr Bondarenko, the district governor in Ukraine and conveyed the inquiries from Rotary in Hiroshima City. At the same time, I asked Bondarenko if my cousin in Dnipro could join Rotary and participate in Rotary’s relief efforts there. He understood the urgent situation and quickly introduced my cousin to the Kyiv Multinational Rotary club. My cousin in Dnipro is now a Rotary member.
During peace time, I used to run chamber music concerts in Hiroshima for children and parents. Now, we decided to turn these concerts into charity events for Ukraine. My son, a violinist, and his pianist friend, Jundai Okano, played at these concerts. They performed well-known classic pieces by European composers and the proceeds have gone to support Ukrainians through Rotary clubs.
There has been tremendous interest. Due to COVID restrictions, we were only allowed to invite 50 people per concert, even though more than 200 people expressed interest. We are able to move to a bigger venue and will play to a large audience in April. After every concert, we send the money to my cousin directly so it reaches people directly. He worked with the Rotary club to buy food and medicine and mattresses for refugees. Because medicine is in critical need, we are trying to purchase medical supplies in Germany and ship them to the eastern part of Ukraine..
I think music is a universal language that can be understood by people from any country. My son says he will play it with the utmost prayer for peace.
I keep thinking how we can end this war and what we can do to help the victims of the war. Since I’m of both Russian and Ukrainian descent, I look at Russia and Ukraine as sibling countries that should live side by side peacefully.