American and English Hands across the ocean; support for Ukraine

Working with foreign Rotary clubs to fulfil joint projects is one of the great strengths of Rotary across the world. The Rotary Club of Whitstable has had the privilege of joining with the Cherry Creek Rotary Club of Denver Colorado and Ukraine Unity Rotary Club of Lviv, Ukraine, to administer an emergency grant for the purchase and delivery of humanitarian goods to the stricken population of Ukraine.

Our introduction to the initial proposal arose from our local project, whereby we have raised money from a concert and general collections to provide financial support for Ukrainian refugee families coming to live in Whitstable. This undertaking was the brainchild of Rtn. Kim Foster of our club, who has worked tirelessly with local and other authorities to find accommodation, education and employment for refugees. We are currently supporting fifty seven families in Whitstable.

Through his connections, Kim was introduced to Rtn. Steve Sidelnyk of the Ukraine Unity Rotary Club, which currently is one of the leads in coordinating the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid to persons in need still living in Ukraine. Steve lives in Whitstable but his parents were from Ukraine and he speaks Ukrainian. He was working jointly with Rtn. Antony Preston, who lives in Folkestone, Kent and who was already organising the delivery of humanitarian relief to Ukraine and working with Rtn. Borys Bodnar who is a Rotarian in Lviv. All three are members of Ukraine Unity Rotary Club, which is a passport club and has had the benefit of having members worldwide which has worked well in the current situation. Another member of the Ukraine Unity Rotary Club had family connections with a Rotary club in New Jersey and who knew, through marriage, President Cindy Chase of the Denver Colorado Cherry Creek Rotary Club. 

Indeed, an extended web of connections. But what a great example of the fourth object of Rotary and the advancement of goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service?

We held a meeting by Zoom in early November 2022 with all interested parties. It was decided that the Cherry Creek Rotary Club would apply for an emergency grant of $25,000 and that the Rotary Club of Whitstable would effectively be its agent to receive the grant, administer the same and Rtn. Antony Preston would purchase and deliver the items to Ukraine, where they would be received and distributed by Ukraine Unity. 

Rtn. Antony was already heavily involved in the purchase and delivery of aid to Ukraine. He met Rtn Borys in March 2022, who was introduced as a trusted contact to further the enterprise. Antony was invited to become a member of the passport club in the summer and by January of this year he has undertaken seventeen trips to the Ukraine border, ten of which continued to Lviv where RC Ukraine Unity is based. Aid in excess of £400,000 has been delivered which has included medical, water purification equipment items, clothing and just about everything in between. Ukraine Unity in fact has become a hub of distribution of water purification tablets and filters for the whole of the country. Rtn. Antony’s trips take him via France, Belgium, Germany and Poland on a 2400 mile round trip negotiating the various borders and the custom requirements which have been a challenge at times.

Against that background of expertise and success Rtn. Antony and Rtn. Borys had decided that there was an immediate need for thermal clothing. The people of Ukraine were facing a winter where daytime temperatures barely rise above -5°C in parts. Early delivery was critical to the success of this project and Rtn. Antony was able to acquire clothing in the United Kingdom through various wholesalers at a very reasonable cost and of a good quality. 

The grant was to be used for that purpose and the application was made by the Cherry Creek Club in early November and received and expedited by Denver Colorado District and approved in Mid- November. The funding was made available in early December. Enormous thanks must be given to DG Bob Kemp of Denver Colorado for helping to expedite the grant and to advise on what audit evidence would be required during the management of the project and to close out the payment.

However, once again the fulfilment of this project could not be achieved without the exceptional work that Rtn. Antony Preston has done in sourcing the clothing, finding transport and then delivering the same to Ukraine. He arranged three trips to Ukraine, two by 4x4 vehicles and one large shipment transported by an HGV (offered by Rtn. William Jackson of the Rotary Club of Hereford Elgar in the UK) and this was particularly helpful at a time when the weather was deteriorating and travel was becoming difficult by van/car. Both Rotarians Antony and Borys are the epitome of Rotary in action and service before self.

The final delivery of clothing was made over the weekend of the 21st January last, with the final count being over 9500 brand new thermal items. We are now looking to close out the financial side of this grant but also to seek further grant funding from other sources for other humanitarian aid. It is likely that, as we move into spring and summer, the need will be focused upon medical, foot care, personal hygiene and power. The Rotary Club of Whitstable may only have been a small cog in the success of this humanitarian enterprise, which has been on-going since March 2022. None the less, will be honoured to assist in supporting the administration of any further grant. We may even be able to arrange our own small bespoke project. We and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club are proud to have been instrumental in supporting Ukraine Unity in the distribution and delivery of this humanitarian aid. Rotary in action; doing great good where it is sorely needed.

By Rotarian Andrew Gough, Treasurer of the Rotary Club of Whitstable, Kent

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