Rotarians have partnered with a solar energy company to provide solar generators that power critical medical equipment at front-line hospitals in Ukraine. Photo by Olena Vynohradova

By Heidi Rickels, past president of the Rotary E-club of WASH

As a Rotarian and development professional, I’ve witnessed many remarkable stories of resilience and compassion. One that deeply touched my heart is that of Yurii Zinchenko, a highly accomplished lawyer with more than 20 years of experience practicing and teaching law in Ukraine. As his apartment building burned, he fled his home in eastern Ukraine, along with his wife, Vitalina, and their young daughter, Anastasia, in February of 2022.

The journey for the Zinchenko family was marked by hardship and uncertainty as they navigated the perilous path westward, fleeing the violent Russian invasion alongside countless other Ukrainians desperate for safety. It was a journey filled with displacement, confusion, and fear, which ultimately led to a beacon of hope.

Yurii Zinchenko

Through the Uniting for Ukraine program, the Zinchenkos found respite in Whitefish, Montana, thanks to the kindness of a local doctor and the formation of a sponsor circle through the Whitefish United Methodist Church. The community rallied around them, offering shelter, resources, and a renewed sense of belonging and support.

Yurii, driven by a deep desire to help his homeland and its people, began sharing his family’s story with local community groups and churches. My heart was moved by the stark difference in the images that he shared of his home city of Kharkiv before and since the invasion. Inspired by his resilience and determination, I approached him and mentioned the international network of Rotarians who might be interested in helping his people. Maybe we could all do something together.

Together with the Rotary Club of Evergreen, Colorado, and the Rotary Club of Kharkiv New Level, we founded the Rotarian-led Ukraine Resilience Campaign. Our mission was clear: to deliver much-needed aid to front-line hospitals in Ukraine.

Serendipitously, we connected with New Use Energy, a solar energy company run by a Ukrainian-American CEO and former Rotary Scholar, Paul Shmotolokha. Through our Power Up Ukraine program, we raised funds and were able to supply solar generators, which were delivered directly to hospitals in Kharkiv and Kherson. These generators became a lifeline, powering critical medical equipment and ensuring that healthcare professionals could continue their life-saving work amid chaos and constant danger.

Yurii’s journey didn’t end there. With the support of Rotarians, he was encouraged to pursue his dream of studying law in the United States. A global grant scholarship from The Rotary Foundation made his aspirations a reality, allowing him to enroll at the University of California-Irvine School of Law in the Master of Laws (LL.M.) program for foreign lawyers. At UCI, Yurii has become a diligent student and noted leader among his peers, being nominated to represent his program in the law school’s graduation ceremony this May.

Yurii’s dedication extends beyond academics. He continued to volunteer tirelessly, bridging connections between the Ukraine Resilience Campaign, Rotarians, hospitals, and critical facilities in Ukraine. Upon graduation, while he studies for the bar exam, he is seeking employment as a paralegal focused on immigration law, assisting Ukrainian and Eastern European refugees.

“My life’s paradigm was shattered but not lost, said Yurii. “It was reformed. I am more dedicated than ever to supporting and spreading the benefits of the rule of law and helping others.”

The impact of our joint efforts through the Ukraine Resilience Campaign continues to grow. We’ve expanded our initiatives to include supporting Rotarian efforts for emergency water interventions in the Pump Up Ukraine program. In the Med Up Ukraine program, we are partnered with Project C.U.R.E., the world’s largest distributor of donated medical supplies and equipment, which hopes to deliver an additional 30-40 containers of medical relief to Ukraine by the end of 2024.

The Ukraine Resilience Campaign has become a symbol of solidarity and hope, uniting Rotarians and communities worldwide in a shared mission of empowering health, hope, and continued resilience. With unwavering support and determination from Rotarians and friends worldwide, we are working to turn the page on a dark chapter in Ukraine and help write a new narrative of hope, compassion, and resilience.

Yurii’s words resonate deeply: “My life’s paradigm was shattered but not lost … Peace is the only hope for our future.”