UPDATE: Helping Ukraine: Polish Rotary Club president explains role of organization


Włodzimierz Bentkowski, president of the Rotary Club Zamość Ordynacki (RCZO), described in an email how his organization helped support the people of Ukraine after the unprovoked Russian invasion in February this year.

Włodzimierz Bentkowski, president of the Rotary Club Zamość Ordynacki (RCZO), described in an email how his organization helped support the people of Ukraine after the unprovoked Russian invasion in February this year.

RCZO recently signed a club-to-club agreement with the Rotary clubs of Moose Jaw – 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 the Ukraine.

MooseJawToday.com contacted RCZO to get their perspective on Russia’s war and its aftermath.

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.

“Through this,” Bentkowski said, “we had many Rotary and personal relationships with Ukrainian friends. After the creation of two districts, the cooperation continued. Partner clubs have been created and have implemented several programs.

In 2014, Russian-backed separatists launched a violent campaign in Ukraine’s Donbass region.

“Not many (people) were interested in it,” Bentkowski said, “but after all, people (die) there. That’s why my club organized a rehabilitation stay for the half-orphans of Ukraine in 2014. It was held annually, with a break during COVID, and was funded by most Polish clubs, sometimes (by clubs) from other countries.

Other regular Rotary programs continued during this time. Ukraine has struggled with the annexation of Crimea and ongoing terrorism in its eastern regions, but the lives of its neighbors have been largely unaffected.

After April 2022, everything changed. About two million Ukrainian refugees arrived in Poland in a short period of time. That number, Bentkowski said, topped 4.6 million at one point. Many of these refugees have since returned to Ukraine or traveled to other countries, but at least two million remain.

“Polish clubs have turned to organizing aid for refugees here and in Ukraine itself. Typically, they had to stop their regular programs,” Bentkowski said. “Polish Rotarians welcomed approximately 2,000 Ukrainian guests to their home.

“RCZO was appointed by the district council to coordinate the aid due to its location on the border and many past contacts with Rotarians from Ukraine.”

Given the outsized role played by the RCZO, it is surprising how few members it has – the club has only 14 members.

Bentkowski said that due to their small size, the resources they have are nominal.

“You have to know that all of this could only happen thanks to the help of many countries and Rotary clubs,” he noted.

RCZO has:

  • Organized three warehouses collecting material gifts from many countries including Germany, USA, UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Portugal etc.
  • Organized transportation of material gifts to Ukraine
  • Creation of a material distribution point for Ukrainians in Zamość
  • Helped equip a refugee center in the nearby town of Szczebrzeszyn
  • Purchased goods with funds from other Rotary clubs and humanitarian organizations
  • Co-financing of a language school teaching Polish to Ukrainians
  • Organization of a mountain camp for Ukrainian children
  • Organized transport of refugees to other countries
  • Maintain accounting records for all activities

Over C$12,000 from Moose Jaw has now been received by RCZO to help with these activities.

Bentkowski is grateful for the global outpouring of support, but he worries about the future.

“We can expect the world to lose interest in the ongoing war,” he noted. “An example is Syria. It will become ordinary over time, it will not be news. Then aid will be limited or not at all. We have to prepare for long-term action. It will be difficult.”

Contact Moose Jaw Rotary Clubs to find out how you can help Ukraine’s cause.

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