Editor’s note: The following is an adapted version of Dr. Olha Paliychuk’s remarks to the Rotary International Convention in Houston, 6 June 2022
By Olha Paliychuk, Rotary Club of Cherkasky, Ukraine
I live and work in central Ukraine, not far from Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. It was a long journey getting to convention: first by bus to the border of Poland, and then across the border and taking a long flight. But all the efforts are worth it. As we say in Ukraine, “To see a friend, no road is too long.”
I’m very honored – and happy – to be in Houston with my Rotary family and friends. I stand here on behalf of more than 1,000 Rotary members in Ukraine to say Thank You.
In February, when the war against my country began ravaging our families and communities, you – my fellow Rotary members around the world sprang into action. You have not only donated and shipped medical supplies and other daily essentials to those of us inside Ukraine, but also provided shelter to those who have fled. Your help has saved lives, giving us hope and inspiring Ukrainians like me to stand up, to help our people, and protect our homeland.
My city of Cherkasy is located a few hundred miles south of where the Chernobyl nuclear accident happened in 1986. Nearly 40 years later, we still feel the terrible legacy of the nuclear disaster. Many children grew up with their bodies decimated by cancer and abnormalities. As a gynecologist oncologist, I work at a hospital where many young cancer patients come to receive treatment.
Over the past three months, those patients who are struggling for their very lives -are facing another type of danger – brutal Russian military attacks. Our work is constantly disrupted by the loud explosions of bombs and rockets. We treat our patients in an atmosphere of fear. When will the next bomb strike, we ask ourselves?
We had to place sandbags to cover all the windows of our hospital to protect our operating theater.
At the same time, hospitals across Ukraine such as mine now treat serious wounds, and bullet injuries, for both civilians and soldiers. When we do surgeries on women and children or treat newborn babies, we don’t even have access to the basic medical supplies and equipment such as patient monitors, operating tables, lamps, or mobile incubators.
As a surgeon, I’m used to major medical emergencies. But preventable tragedies caused by this unprovoked war fill me with anger and sadness.
Members of my own family are supporting me through this difficult time. I inherited my determined spirit from my parents, who are also doctors. My trip here enables me to reunite with my 21-year-old son, Pavlo. My son lives in Toronto and is attending his second Rotary convention.
My fellow Rotarians, along with my family members, are inspiring me to devote myself to helping others. One of the unique things about Rotary is that we have volunteers working on the frontline. I want to tell you proudly that our Rotary networks in Ukraine are doing an amazing job. Our district holds special online meetings twice daily to identify needs inside Ukraine and coordinate humanitarian aid with clubs in our neighboring countries.
I’m also leading our district’s medical response. The International Rotary Fellowship of Healthcare Professionals meet every week to allocate care and materials, and to assess the growing needs. I can tell you that your donations are being delivered to those –who are most in need.
As the international community of Rotary reaches out to help Ukraine, we are helping to build strong connections and friendships. As the war drags on, Ukraine will need your continued support. I hope to deepen our bonds and to plan for the future. With our shared efforts, peace will come.