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Rotary clubs of Nebraska, Iowa donate to Ukrainian refugee efforts: 'They saved our life here'

Posted at 11:45 AM, Apr 11, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Svitlana Pakholkova fled Ukraine at the start of the war. She, her husband, her two children and many members of her extended family were living in Kyiv.

"We didn’t think about moving anywhere from Kyiv. We live in Kyiv, my husband and children and then, February 24 we woke up in the morning at 4 a.m. from the big explosion by our house, from our apartment building and it was so scary. Our children were scared and we didn’t know what to do, what to think. We realized the war is real, the war is starting," Pakholkova said.

She traveled through numerous countries with her children. Her husband has to stay behind to fight because all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are required to stay in the country to serve in the military.

Eventually, Pakholkova ended up in Warsaw, Poland. She says after a few days in Poland, she was running out of money and was worried about where she and her children would stay.

"When my friend called me and said this Operation Safe Harbor Ukraine have a place for you. It was a miracle to say the truth. Everything was in one hour and I said it was really a miracle," Pakholkova said.

Rotary members of Nebraska and Iowa have found ways to directly aid Ukrainians in the wake of the war. One member of Rotary and Chairman of the Board for Executive Travel Steve Glenn started Operation Safe House. The organization raises money to pay for hotel rooms and food for Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw.

"About three weeks into the war I became very frustrated because I saw all this terror happening to people and how they were fleeing Ukraine for safety and I said we have to do something about this," Glenn said. "We basically secured housing and food for $50 a day for a family of four. So, literally every $50 is a miracle of one day for a family from Ukraine in Warsaw, Poland."

Pakholkova is one of the Ukrainians they've been able to help.

"I would say they saved our life here because before (we) moved to this hotel, I didn’t know where to go, where to live. Because I was in another hotel for three days and my money finished and I didn’t know where to go and what to rent," she said.

Operation Safe Harbor Ukraine has also funded volunteer trips to Poland for those who want to help more directly. Barbara Bartle, a member of Rotary is one of the volunteers who has traveled overseas.

"I thought perhaps thinking long term thinking this is going to go on for a while, that we might need to figure out how to sustain his opportunity and if I can connect to our Rotary clubs in Warsaw that that might be a nice long term connection for us to have," Bartle said.

Rotary has also collected medical supplies that will be airlifted from the U.S. to Poland and trucked to the Ukrainian border. They've collected gauze, tourniquets, splints and more.

Rotary members say they had to do what they could to help Ukraine.

"It’s about making a difference. It’s about doing the right thing, the right way, for the right people. This is what we do. This is who we are, this is why we exist. It’s our 'why,' so this is how we serve. We serve above ourselves and this is looking at the world holistically and seeing our own faces that are struggling and knowing we can do something in support and not just stand by," said Carol Horner, the governor of Rotary District 5650.

Ukrainians are feeling the direct impact, thankful for those across the world who are doing so much to help them.

"We appreciate each person who helped us, who thought about Ukrainians. They are so far from Ukraine in the USA who help us to raise those money to help us live here. It's hard to find words to say we are very grateful to everybody," Pakholkova said.

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