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Rotary clubs across continents partner to collect and deliver medical aid to Ukraine

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Zelensky, President of Ukraine

By ARNOLD R. GRAHL

Rotary members in North America, Argentina, and Europe are collaborating with a U.S.-based association of Ukrainian health care workers and using their connections to collect and ship more than 100 tons of critical medical supplies to Ukraine.

Two cargo planes packed with tourniquets, blood-clotting gauze, blood pressure equipment, and other items have already been flown from the city of Chicago in the United States to Europe, where members help unload the supplies and get them to Ukraine.

Rotary members in Ukraine, where Russia’s military action has caused a humanitarian crisis, are in daily contact with hospitals to determine what supplies are needed most.

“It is Rotary doing what Rotary does best,” says Pat Merryweather-Arges, a Rotary International director-elect and member of the Rotary Club of Naperville, Illinois, USA. “It networks, pulls people together, and gets the job done.”

North American and Argentine Rotary clubs are combining their resources to purchase items from the list of needed supplies. They’re also working with contacts at pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers to arrange donations. A hospital in Peoria, Illinois, sent an ambulance, and members in Maine, USA, secured a C-arm, a mobile imaging device that can be used to X-ray people for shrapnel.

Supplies are streaming into a warehouse operated by the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA) near O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. And more are on the way. Rotary clubs in the U.S. states of Nebraska and Iowa are collecting supplies to fill several large cargo trucks that will drive hundreds of miles to the warehouse in Chicago.

Inside the warehouse, UMANA and Rotary volunteers organise, sort, and bundle the items before they are shipped. Several donors have made contributions that offset the cost of shipping.

“It’s amazing what one Rotarian talking to another Rotarian can accomplish,” says Marga Hewko, president of the Rotary Club of Chicago.

Hewko is the spouse of Rotary International General Secretary and CEO John Hewko, who is of Ukrainian descent and is a charter member of the Rotary Club of Kyiv. The Hewkos lived in Ukraine for five years during the 1990s.

Earlier this year, Marga Hewko and the Rotary Club of Chicago had been working with doctors in Chicago and Ukraine to establish a stem cell storage facility for cancer patients in the Ukrainian city of Lviv that would allow the cells to be stored longer and enable more complex research.

That initiative shifted to a new focus when the war began.

“We were reaching out to the Ukrainian community in Chicago to learn how we could help, and at the same time, we already knew these doctors,” says Marga Hewko. “That is how I found out about UMANA.”

It was an ideal match. UMANA, founded in 1950, promotes education through conferences and exchanges of doctors between the U.S. or Canada and Ukraine. After the war started, UMANA volunteers began sending medical aid to Ukraine and using their network of doctors and pharmaceutical companies to get supplies and equipment. Rotary clubs soon joined the project.

Marga Hewko, who is from Argentina, used her contacts there to bring Argentine clubs into the effort, and those members are also using their connections to obtain funds and equipment.

During a tour of the UMANA warehouse, Marga Hewko, Merryweather-Arges, and Jane Hopkins, the governor of District 6450 in Illinois, praised the efficiency and scale of the operation.

“UMANA is simply amazing,” Merryweather-Arges says. “We opted to work with them because they are well connected to the Ukrainian community in Chicago and have worked to sort and pack nearly 400 pallets of supplies.”

Members in Ukraine continue to develop the list of needed supplies. Olha Paliychuk, who is a surgeon, a member of the Rotary Club of Cherkasy, and a member of the Turkey-Ukraine intercountry committee, calls hospitals each night.

The delivery of the items to hospitals is coordinated by Paliychuk in Cherkasy; by Borys Bodnar, of the Rotary Club of Ukraine Unity Passport, in Lviv; and by Mykola Stebljanko, of the Rotary E-Club of Ukraine, in Odesa.

Marga Hewko says the actions of members in and outside of Ukraine demonstrate the power of Rotary’s network.

“In the middle of the war, when some of the targets of the Russian army are hospitals, the fact that we have volunteers in Ukraine driving supplies across their country — if that is not Service Above Self, I don’t know what is,” she says. (Rotary.org)

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