Posted by Steve Lettau on Jan 10, 2023

In the face of the unprovoked and brutal attack by Russia on Ukraine, District 6270 and its Rotary Clubs have stepped up in many ways to alleviate suffering in Ukraine.

The Formation of the Rotary Disaster Response Fund’s Ukraine Effort

Shortly after Ukraine was invaded by Russia in February of 2022, Rotarians started asking Rotary International (RI) to provide grants in service of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The RI Trustees met in late February and decided to use the Disaster Response Fund for the purpose. They announced that all donations to the fund between March 3rd and April 30th would be dedicated to service to Ukraine. During those eight weeks, Rotarians donated almost $15MM to the fund, and grants became immediately available.

Grants would be limited to $25K per district, and require partnering with a club in or near Ukraine for on-the-ground execution. Signatories would be District Governors and Rotary Foundation Chairs, and reporting would be required on an annual basis, and at completion.

During the next 37 weeks, 274 districts in 55 countries participated, running 440 grants, providing a wide range of needs from medical and hospital equipment to refugee shelters and psychological support. Our own district processed three grants.

The grant fund was exhausted on November 17th, and while the Trustees will meet to discuss it in January, it is not expected that the program will be renewed. Clubs still have District and Global grants as available tools, as well as personal and club fundraising.

District Level Grants – RI Disaster Response Fund

The first grant was for $25,000 to purchase medical equipment for a Rehab hospital in Kharkiv. Four machines were specifically requested by the hospital’s leadership, and D6270 negotiated a three-way contract, wherein we purchased the equipment from the manufacturer for delivery to the hospital, and the manufacturer would install and provide training for the equipment. This grant was completed on July 22nd, 2022.

The second grant was also for $25,000, this time to equip an unused children’s camp just outside of Kiev as a refugee shelter. The shelter was provided with 100 beds, 200 bedding kits and two large Reverse Osmosis water filters from this grant. Another district’s grant focused on washing and cooking equipment, and volunteers in Ukraine rehabbed the building’s living spaces, completing the transformation. This grant was completed on August 25th, 2022.

For the third grant, we partnered with district 6220 (Northeast Wisconsin and Michigan UP) and with our combined $50,000, sponsored rehab treatment for what we expect will be 200+ front line rescue and aid workers who intend to return to service. Among such workers, there has been a two to three percent suicide rate and much higher suicidal ideation. They experience nightmares, fatigue, anxiety, guilt, PTSD and physical issues associated with their work. The facility selected has a demonstrated track record in such matters and the decision team (District Governors and Rotary Foundation Chairs) felt that the multiplicative effect of “helping the helpers”, along with RI President Elect Gordon McInally’s focus on mental health, made this an especially effective and appropriate pursuit.

Club Level Grants and Related Efforts

Almost immediately after the invasion, and even before the RI Trustees had created the Disaster Response initiative, Rotary Clubs sprang into action.

Rob Grede and two associates, with the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, After Hours Amigos, collected approximately $20,000. After coordinating with Rotarians in Poland and Ukraine, Rob flew to Vienna, Austria – on his own funds. He purchased supplies from a medical supply vendor, rented a truck and drove 9 suitcases and 3 pallets of supplies, as well as 7 boxes of military clothing to Przemysl, Poland. There, he transferred the supplies to two Ukrainian Rotarians, who then drove them all the way to the front lines in Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine. Rob and his club repeated this effort in September with another $6000 that they raised.

The Rotary Club of Milwaukee joined the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA) in an effort that solicited donations of medical supplies and equipment, packaged up those supplies and shipped them to Lviv, Ukraine. There, in a now-bomb-damaged warehouse, in the cold and often under low light, volunteers repack the supplies into kits destined for hospitals, clinics, aid stations and even combat medics. Further volunteers carry them, often at great personal danger, to their destinations, where they are used to save lives. High value supplies and equipment such as surgical instruments, wound vacuums, arterial grafts, and pain relief & anesthetic medications are packed in suitcases in Wisconsin and carried by individual travelers, called “mules”, to the warehouse in Lviv. This effort in Wisconsin alone, has shipped in excess of 80 tons of supplies, and the parent UMANA effort, centered in Chicago, has shipped over 300 tons.

The Elmbrook Rotary Club raised $19,000, which was matched with $15,000 from the club’s charitable Foundation and sent to the Disaster Response Fund. Elmbrook Rortarian Larry Myers also separately and personally raised another $20,000 that was sent to Lutheran organisations in Ukraine. The club has also collected over 80 suitcases and duffel bags that they provided to the Milwaukee club’s collaborative effort with UMANA.