Rotary clubs unite on all continents to collect and deliver medical aid to Ukraine

Two cargo planes filled with tons of medical supplies have already been flown from Chicago, USA to Ukraine, where members helped unload the supplies.


Rotary members from North America, Argentina, and Europe are working with an American Association of Ukrainian Health Workers and using their connections to collect and ship more than 100 tons of critical medical supplies to Ukraine.

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

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

“This is Rotary doing what it does best,” says Pat Merryweather-Arges, elected director of Rotary International and member of the Rotary Club of Naperville, Illinois, USA. “He networks, brings people together and gets the job done.”

Rotary clubs in North America and Argentina combine their resources to purchase items from the supply list. They also work 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 looking for shrapnel.

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

Inside the warehouse, UMANA and Rotary volunteers organize, sort and consolidate items before they are shipped. Several donors have made contributions that offset the shipping costs.

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

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

Earlier this year, Marga Hewko and the Rotary Club of Chicago worked 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 cells to be stored longer and would allow research.

This initiative changed direction when the war began.

“We reached out to the Ukrainian community in Chicago to find out how we could help, and at the same time, we already knew these doctors,” says Marga Hewko. “That’s how I discovered UMANA.”

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

Marga Hewko, who is from Argentina, has used her contacts there to get Argentinian clubs involved in the effort, and those members are also using their connections to secure funds and materials.

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 just amazing,” says Merryweather-Arges. “We chose to work with them because they are well connected to Chicago’s Ukrainian community and have worked to sort and pack nearly 400 pallets of supplies.”

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

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

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

“In the midst of the war, when some of the targets of the Russian military are hospitals, the fact that we have volunteers in Ukraine who are transporting supplies across their country – if not Service Above Self, I don’t know what it is,” she says.