In the 1940s, John Hewko’s parents fled their native Ukraine as Soviet forces advanced towards the country. Fifty years later, John helped draft the Ukrainian constitution after the fall of the Soviet Union which led to independence in August 1991.
In June, Rotary International’s General Secretary was back in his motherland for the first time since the war started, listening to horrors of the Russian invasion, and learning how Rotary clubs have become a major support service to the people.
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“Visiting Ukraine has given me a feel for the horrors going on here,” he said. “Some of the Rotarians who are in the military have been describing the war crimes which the Russian Army is perpetrating.
“It’s also given me a chance to thank Rotarians for the work they’re doing and, most importantly, to let them know that there is tremendous support in the Rotary world for them and for Ukraine.”
Around $16 million has been spent from Rotary International’s Disaster Response Fund on humanitarian projects in Ukraine, and there are a further $1.3 million worth of grants still in the queue.
He praised the response of Rotarians from Great Britain and Ireland who have “really stepped up and latched onto this issue” by securing the second largest number of disaster grants.
However, John said it was important that Rotarians continued to donate to The Rotary Foundation to continue this work.
The RI chief said that on top of the $16 million, they had initially estimated a further $25 million has been donated in aid by Rotary clubs from around the world directly to Ukraine.
But after hearing from a German delegation tell the Ukraine District Conference that clubs there had donated another $32 million, that global figure would have to be revised.
“How Rotarians have responded to Ukraine is unprecedented,” said John.
“During my tenure in Rotary, we have never raised that much money so quickly.”
Why? John points to how European countries became directly affected by the influx of refugees, and because the war was being played out on social media to a global stage. This was not a hidden war.
Now 18 months into the conflict, donor fatigue is setting in but it remains important for clubs and districts to support Ukraine.
“We’ve just had a dam blown up by the Russians where the ecological disaster is going to be unprecedented. The need now is greater than when the war started.
“When we get peace, the World Bank is talking about $400 billion will be needed to rebuild Ukraine. Ukraine’s GDP is $200 billion, so it is going to take twice that to fix the Russian destruction.
“But I sense, too, that what has been happening in Ukraine has been a catalyst to Rotary clubs. When bad things happen Rotary clubs really work together to make a difference.
“For the people of Ukraine, it has united them like never before in their history. It is David and Goliath, but the Ukrainians have shown their bravery to hold off the second largest army in the world.”