Ukraine assistance program changes lives

Oleg and Oksana, their daughter Nastya, and twin boys Bohdan and Roman.

By Doug Lee, Rotary Club of Dixon, Illinois, USA

“Pajama Day?”

Since I’d “met” her in mid-October, Oksana had sent me hundreds of e-mails through Facebook Messenger. I’m pretty sure this was the first one that made me laugh out loud.

We’d just enrolled Oksana’s daughter Nastya in first grade at Washington School in Dixon, Illinois, and Nastya’s teacher had excitedly shared the schedule for the week ahead. When Oksana read Friday was Pajama Day, she was beyond perplexed.

In Ukraine, you see, schools don’t celebrate Pajama Day.

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North Carolina Rotarians welcome Ukrainian refugee families

The two women sit on a sofa with their children in their laps, and two dogs nearby
Natallia Melnik and Sviatlana Baranava and their children in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA.

By Dan Parks, Rotary Club of Wilmington East, North Carolina, USA

At the end of December, two Ukrainian families arrived in North Carolina, USA, after a whirlwind departure from Kyiv on Christmas day. They traveled through Warsaw and Chicago enroute to North Carolina. It’s been a busy three weeks as I’ve helped get the mothers signed up for Medicaid and their children enrolled in school or settled into daycare.

In late September, I was contacted by a representative from Welcome.US, a nonpartisan national initiative in the United States that was created to inspire, mobilize, and empower Americans from all corners of the country to support those seeking refuge here. The program started in September 2021 to assist those fleeing Afghanistan, but it has since expanded to embrace refugees from the war in Ukraine. Welcome.US is collaborating with Rotary to find hosts for refugee families.

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Books for Ukrainian children

Seated student holds science dictionary with other books in her lap
Sofiya Mulyk, a student at St. Nicholas Cathedral School, holds the book she received from the book fair donation.

By Laura Kann, governor of District 6420 (Illinois, USA)

Rotary’s response to the war in Ukraine has been simply incredible. Since the war began in February, Rotarians have opened their hearts to support those effected by the war in many different ways. Many members in my district have also been thinking, what can we do, right here, right now?

In August, I read a front-page article in the Chicago Tribune about Ukrainian refugee children in Chicago and the impact of the war on them and their families. It both broke my heart and spurred me to action, showing me how District 6420 could make a difference for at least some of these children.

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Texas Rotarians let kids be kids at camp for Ukrainian refugees

A child viewed from above assembles a wood block as part of a puzzle of several wood pieces
A child works on a craft project during the four-day recreational camp at Peaceable Kingdom in Killeen, Texas. Photo by Oliver Smith, Rotary Club of Northwest Austin.

By Shannon Coleman, governor of District 5870 Central Texas, USA

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the United Nations estimates that more than 14 million people are thought to have fled their homes. We began hearing about some of these families through our Ukrainian community here is Central and South-Central Texas. Children are entering our school systems with only the clothes on their backs. Many of the families have experienced violence, war, a shortage of food, water or shelter, personal injury, and disease.

Wanting to help, Rotarians in our district applied for a Disaster Response Grant from The Rotary Foundation to work with Peaceable Kingdom by Variety, a children’s retreat/camp in Killeen, for a three-night, four-day recreational experience over the Labor Day weekend. We imagined a space where the Ukrainian families could connect with their community, step away from the reminders of war, and take a much-needed deep breath. We wanted to give the children a place to explore, laugh and just be kids.

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5 ways to help on World Refugee Day

Train station in Pardubic, Czech Republic.
People displaced by the war in Ukraine arrive at a train station in Pardubice, Czech Republic. April 2022.

World Refugee Day, 20 June, is an international day designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the globe. Members of Rotary and Rotaract clubs have been taking action through a variety of international projects to help raise awareness of the plight of refugees, advocate for humane policies related to refugees, and provide for immediate needs of refugees. Quentin Wodon, Chair of the Rotary Action Group for Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Migration, has written a blog on 5 ways to support newcomers and migrants on the Rotary Service in Action blog. Also read about some of the efforts of Rotary and Rotaract members to support refugees through the years:

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