By John Hewko, General Secretary and CEO of Rotary International
Today is the one-year anniversary of the tragic war in Ukraine. It’s a war that never should have started. And it’s a conflict that has evolved into a non-stop humanitarian catastrophe because the Russia strategy is now to inflict as much pain on the civilian population of Ukraine as possible.
For a peace-based, humanitarian organization like Rotary, this type of conflict is heartbreaking. Yesterday was our 118th anniversary, and throughout our history, Rotary has always stood on the side of promoting peace and rebuilding from the ashes of destruction. Peace is a central goal of Rotary, and we work tirelessly to help avoid and stop armed conflicts. Our focus is on helping people in need and creating the conditions for lasting peace.
But now, the people of Ukraine are trapped in a humanitarian and refugee crisis at a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.
This conflict also hits me on a personal level. My parents are from Ukraine. They came to the United States in 1949 after having spent four years in a refugee camp in southern Germany. I grew up speaking Ukrainian at home, and my wife, Marga, and I lived in Ukraine from 1991 to 1996. In 1991-1992, I was privileged enough to play a small role in preparing the initial draft of Ukraine’s post-Soviet constitution and participating in the working groups that were developing the initial Ukrainian post-independence legislative initiatives. I still have a great deal of family, friends, and former colleagues there.
It’s impossible for me to turn away from the daily pain being inflicted on Ukrainians. Civilians are being forced to live without water, electricity, and heat in the winter. Missiles and bombs are blowing up hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, and train stations full of refugees.
There are tens of thousands of dead and wounded soldiers on both sides; tens of thousands of killed or injured civilians; and hundreds of billions of dollars in destroyed civilian infrastructure. The war has plagued Ukraine with mass looting, summary executions, sexual assault, torture chambers, mass graves, and more atrocities.
Rotary has responded to this crisis, just as we continue to do for crises around the world, including the devastating flooding in Pakistan, and earthquake relief in Turkey and Syria. There are many ways that people can help out and donate in times of great humanitarian need, but when you donate to Rotary, you can be assured of something unique – on the ground assistance and direction from people who know best where those funds can be best used. Giving to Rotary humanitarian response efforts ensures making a real impact in a timely manner.
So far, we have raised $15 million in our Ukraine Disaster Response Fund and we are anecdotally hearing about the millions of dollars of additional aid that Rotary clubs and districts are sending directly to Ukraine and its neighboring countries.
These funds are going directly to projects that alleviate suffering and assist Ukrainian refugees, both within the borders of Ukraine and in neighboring countries. Our efforts in Ukraine have made such a huge impact that Rotary has actually increased its membership in that country since the war began.
Our work cannot and will not end here. We must continue tirelessly so that Ukrainian reconstruction can begin after the war is over.
Not only will Ukraine’s infrastructure need to be rebuilt, but government corruption must be rooted out. Ukraine needs a real chance to join the European Union and to thrive as a fully independent democracy. But for Ukraine to reach these milestones, there must be peace. This is where Rotary can play a great role — the process of healing the wounds between the Ukrainian and Russian people and working toward a true and lasting peace in the world.
Donate to the Rotary Foundation Ukraine Disaster Response Fund and other disaster relief funds we have established. There is still much work to be done and we need your continued financial support to make that happen.
Thanks for the update John. Such a tragedy.
Thanks for the meaningful personal update John. Every night my prayers go out to the Ukrainian people. This is such a needless, tragic war. Proud to be a Rotarian!
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