Włodzimierz Bentkowski, president of Rotary Club Zamość Ordynacki (RCZO), described in an email how his organization has helped support Ukrainian people following the unprovoked Russian invasion in February of this year.
RCZO recently signed a club-to-club agreement with Moose Jaw’s Rotary Clubs — the Rotary Club of Moose Jaw and the Rotary Club of Moose Jaw Wakamow, respectively — to accept responsibility for funds raised in Moose Jaw on behalf of Ukraine.
MooseJawToday.com reached out to RCZO to get their perspective on Russia’s war and its consequences.
Bentkowski explained that at this point, there are two eras for Polish Rotary clubs: before April 2022 — and after.
Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus shared a district under Rotary International until 2016.
“Thanks to this,” Bentkowski said, “we had many Rotary and personal relationships with friends from Ukraine. After the establishment of two districts, the cooperation continued. Partner clubs were established and they ran several programs.”
In 2014, Russian-supported separatists began a violent campaign in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
“Few (people) were interested in it,” Bentkowski said, “but after all, people (are dying) there. That is why my club organized a rehabilitation stay for half-orphans from Ukraine in 2014. It took place every year, with a break during COVID, and was financed by most Polish clubs, sometimes (by clubs) from other countries.”
Other, regular Rotary programs continued during this period. Ukraine struggled with Crimea’s annexation and ongoing terrorism in its eastern regions, but life for its neighbours was mostly unaffected.
After April 2022, everything changed. About two million Ukrainian refugees arrived in Poland within a short window. That number, Bentkowski said, exceeded 4.6 million at one point. Many of those refugees have since returned to Ukraine or gone to other countries, but at least two million remain.
“Polish clubs have switched to organizing aid for refugees here and in Ukraine itself. As a rule, they had to stop their regular programs,” Bentkowski said. “Polish Rotarians welcomed about 2,000 guests from Ukraine into their homes.
“RCZO was appointed by the district board to coordinate the aid due to its location on the border and many former contacts with Rotarians from Ukraine.”
Given the outsized role RCZO is playing, it is surprising how few members they have — the club numbers only 14.
Bentkowski said that because of their small size, the resources available to them are symbolic.
“You have to know that all this could have happened only thanks to the help of many countries and Rotary clubs,” he noted.
- Organized three warehouses collecting material gifts from many countries, including Germany, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Portugal, and more
- Arranged the transport of material gifts to Ukraine
- Established a materials distribution point for Ukrainians in Zamość
- Helped to equip a refugee centre in nearby Szczebrzeszyn
- Purchased goods using funds from other Rotary clubs and aid organizations
- Co-financed a language school teaching Polish to Ukrainians
- Organized a mountain camp for Ukrainian children
- Organized transport of refugees to other countries
- Kept accounting records for all activities
Over $12,000 CAD from Moose Jaw has now been received by RCZO to assist in these activities.
Bentkowski is grateful for the worldwide outpouring of support, but he worries for the future.
"We can expect the world to lose interest in the face of the long-lasting war," he noted. "An example is Syria. It will become ordinary over time, it won't be news. Then the aid will be limited or not at all. We should prepare ourselves for long-term action. It will be difficult."
Reach out to Moose Jaw’s Rotary Clubs to stay up to date with how you can help the cause of Ukraine.