Editors note: Like many Rotary members, Rotary Foundation Trustee Per Høyen, a member of the Rotary Club of Aarup, Denmark, had a desire to take action in response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Through the Rotary network, he and his wife learned of a 17-year-old Ukrainian refugee, Artem Ziablov, staying in Germany. In this blog post, the first of two parts, Høyen shares their decision to welcome Artem into their home.
By Per Høyen, Rotary Foundation Trustee
Like most of the world, my wife and I were concerned when we heard of the buildup of Russian military on the Ukraine border. As a Rotary Director, I had been to Ukraine six years ago for a club charter and have Rotary friends in Ukraine. Knowing that my friends were in danger was awful. The day the invasion happened was very hard for us. And seeing the pictures of what was happening brought tears to our eyes. We asked, “who could do this to small children?”
I started communication with my Rotary friends in the Lviv International Rotary Club on a daily basis, and I learned there were two Danish members of the club, which made it even easier to communicate. They kept me informed what they were doing, and one day, one of them, Lars, called to tell me they had this young man from Ukraine staying in Germany who needed a place to stay. He asked me if my club could find a place for him somewhere.
Prior to that, my wife and I had been talking about what we could do to help, even feeling a bit helpless. When we got the call from Lars, we said yes, without a doubt, we would make a home for him. Hosting Artem has given us something very tangible to do.
We went and picked him up in Germany. Before that, we had gone to a store in town and let them know we had this young man coming and that we didn’t know how many clothes he was bringing with him. The shop owner was very gracious and let Artem pick out two of everything: two trousers, two briefs, etc., and we didn’t have to pay anything.
For us, it has been an eye-opening experience. When you are sitting back in your own environment, you have one way of thinking about things. But then something like this happens, and it changes your perspective on the world.
We’ve had a lot of discussions with Artem. Along the way we have learned a lot from him, about our cultural differences, the history of his country, and the background on Soviet-Ukraine relations, which we didn’t know a lot about before.
I am also realizing that all my years in Rotary and as a senior leader have prepared me to be more equipped to help and want to help in this situation. Rotary teaches us we need to be flexible and accommodating of different cultures, and we need to do what we can for people who do not have the same opportunities as ourselves. I’m not sure I would have had that same view if it had not been for Rotary.
We are doing our small part. It’s just a drop in the ocean. But millions of drops make a difference.
The response we have seen in Denmark, and all over Europe really, has been tremendous. We all understand Ukrainians need a place of peace. No one would want to be pushed out of their country. When I see what Rotarians are doing worldwide to support Ukraine, it makes me proud to be a Rotarian.