Suddenly, the war knocked on our door

Oksana Havryliv and volunteers
Oksana Havryliv takes a selfie with some of the volunteers bringing medicine, food and other relief supplies to be reloaded and distributed. Photo by Oksana Havryliv

By Oksana Havryliv, Rotaract Club of Lviv International

Before the war, I was a student in international relations at the university in Ukraine and had been pursuing a master’s degree in political science through the University of Vienna. I dreamed of becoming a diplomat and representing Ukraine. I was busy with studies, planning my life, and hanging out with friends, especially those in Rotaract. That all changed on 24 February when Russia invaded my country and the bombs began to fall.

Children woke up not to the bright rays of the sun, but to the sounds of rockets and bombs falling in Odessa and Kyiv, the country’s capital. The war came knocking at our door. Almost overnight, we forgot the normal rhythm of our lives and became a united front with a clear purpose, to resist the aggression and help the people of our country.

My life has changed drastically, and I feel it will never be like it was. Before all this, I actually loved the subject of history in school, and believed that the world had learned from its two bloody world wars in the 20th century. History wouldn’t repeat itself with another brutal war in Europe, right? Sadly, no.

Living in Lviv and Lemberg, a wonderful city in the western part of Ukraine, I didn’t experience any of the bombing that central and eastern parts of the country felt at the beginning of the war. But I was highly motivated to act knowing my fellow Ukrainians in those affected areas were living in basements, shelters, and subways.

My mother and I decided to act  by creating a hub to funnel humanitarian aid. The bureaucracy of communicating with non-governmental organizations in Europe and the U.S. was daunting and took a lot of time. But it didn’t stop us from our goal of helping civilian populations that were suffering from the war.

We are driven by the conviction that the participation of each and every Ukrainian will lead us to victory

Thankfully, I am a very communicative person and have many contacts in other countries. I started by asking Ukrainian friends in Germany to help collect warm clothes and durable food. They sent almost 60 tons of relief supplies to us.

My relatives and other volunteers began sorting items in the yard of our farm. But we ran out of space, so we found a warehouse. I wrote to all my friends worldwide asking for their help, and I was very surprised with the positive response and how many were willing to assist.

The logistics of funneling supplies from European countries as well as to Ukrainian cities was difficult. Buses filled with our relief supplies were in constant danger from attacks by Russian military. The bus drivers knowingly risked their lives. They are heroes.

Each passing day in the warehouse, our team became more and more efficient. Everyone did their own part, bringing us closer to our goal.

On 26 March, my city was targeted by Russian aggression with missiles fired from the occupied city of Sevastopol. But we’re alive and still doing our thing.

And so the story goes on. I have decided, as a true patriot, to stay in Ukraine. I have set aside everything: my job, my studies in Vienna, ordinary everyday life, and time with my own family. We spend almost 20 hours a day in the warehouse. But we are driven by the conviction that the participation of each and every Ukrainian will lead us to victory. Because “The truth is with us.”

Learn how Rotary is responding to the crisis in Ukraine

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