The Ukraine war is devastatingly painful and endless, wrecking cities and lives. I have visited Kiev twice, once immediately after the Berlin Wall fell and again when the country was rapidly developing. I feel pained because of the connect with Ukraine and its people.
On May 8, 1992, as the president of Rotary International, my wife and I reached Kiev to formally introduce Rotary. Since there was no air connection, we travelled on a ship accompanied by some US Rotarians who had sponsored the first club in Ukraine. We stayed on the ship.
The next day at the Kiev palace gala banquet, I presented the charter of the new Rotary Club of Kiev to president Vladimir Kulik, in the presence of District Governor Aarne Valikangas from Finland and the founding members, including John Hewko, now general secretary of Rotary International. Also present was John’s father Lubomyr Hewko, who had helped establish the club. Rotary clubs from the UK and Canada supported various service projects supplying medical equipment to Ukraine’s hospitals, assisting victims of the Chernobyl disaster and volunteering doctors for eye, dental and ENT surgeries. In 1996, the Rotary Club of Kyiv organised immunisation of 4 million children to make the country polio-free.
I feel pained because of the connect with Ukraine and its people. Watching the ruins of their progress, my heart bleeds.
With Ukraine’s independence, the name changed from Kiev to Kyiv. Legend states that three brothers — Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv — established the city. Kyiv took its name from the eldest brother Kyi.
Twenty years after our first visit, I was in Kyiv in 2012, for a Rotary conference as the chief guest.
We visited many projects. One continues to be a constant in my memory, the Children’s Cardiac Centre, managed by Rotarian Illya M Yemetz as its director. The centre’s highlight was the world’s first open-heart surgery using antilog umbilical cord blood and also the first simultaneous open-heart and liver tumour surgery, and then Ukraine’s first neonatal Ross II operation. Not only the health sector, but also technology, communications, computers and industrial manufacturing were advancing.
The conference was held in the Kyiv Doll Theatre and the evening was on a motorboat to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Kyiv. It was enjoyable witnessing the progress over two decades as 46 Rotary clubs have been added.
Rotary International has collected millions of dollars to help the victims of this senseless war.
I close with thoughts of a beautiful Ukraine and its people. Watching the ruins of their progress, my heart bleeds. The great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko says: ‘In Ukraine, my own land; A fair land and wide.’ And from his My Testament: ‘And in the great new family; The family of the free; With softly spoken, kindly word; Remember also me.’
The writer is a past RI president
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