When John Hewko drove into the city limits of Lviv, Ukraine last month, “the air raid sirens started going off.”

“It’s just a way of life there,” the CEO of Evanston-based Rotary International, told Evanston Now about his two weeks last month in Ukraine.

Rotary is a service organization, and so Hewko went to Ukraine to talk with fellow Rotarians about how the $16 million that the Rotary Foundation has raised for Ukraine is being used, along with additional dollars from individual Rotary clubs worldwide.

The money is going to help refugees, buy medical supplies, and, for example, in the case of one particular Rotary club, spend $2.3 million for ambulances.

“It’s tough out there,” Hewko said, of the war to repel the Russian invaders.

“There’s daily shelling’ in some cities.

“People walk around with a tourniquet. You never know.”

You never know, indeed.

At the rehab center.

Hewko visited a rehabilitation center, and met wounded soldiers.

“They had no anger nor regret. They wanted to return to the front lines. I’m in awe of their patriotism,” Hewko said.

Hewko’s parents were from Ukraine, so for him, going there is far more than just a business trip

He still has relatives in the country, and on this most recent trip, spent several hours with family members.

“While we were having dinner,” Hewko recalled, “the air raid sirens went off.”

“Everybody whipped out their cell phones,” because the kids have apps which can track the types of Russian planes which are attacking.

“They know how long it will take” for an airplane-launched-missile to hit the target, which could be right down the street.

“I grew up with baseball cards,” Hewko said. “They’re growing up learning what missiles do.”

Hewko speaking at the Rotary conference in Dubno.

Hewko also attended a Rotary conference in the city of Dubno, and also met with senior government officials, such as the mayor of Lviv.

“The Ukrainians are totally unified,” Hewko noted.

“This war has completely backfired on Russia.”

While Hewko is CEO of Rotary International, he actually got involved with the organization in Ukraine first, helping to set up the first Rotary Club in that nation in the 1990s.

Hewko was working in Ukraine at the time, and besides establishing the Rotary group, also helped write Ukraine’s first post-Soviet constitution, and was a trustee of a college in Lviv, which he described as “the first Western-style campus in the former Soviet Union.”

On his way back to the United States, Hewko stopped in London, for an international conference on rebuilding Ukraine, whenever the war ends.

The cost estimate? $400 billion-to-$1 trillion, Hewko said, which will require private sector assistance as well as government aid.

“The scale of the destruction” by the Russians, Hewko stated, “is massive.”

Ukrainians, Hewko stated, are incredibly appreciative of the military, medical, financial and refugee assistance they are receiving.

Hewko at a child care center in Ukraine.

“There is enormous gratitude to the West, and to the U.S. in particular,” Hewko noted.

The Rotary CEO said more help is needed. He noted that Ukrainians want their nation to be admitted to the European Union, and to NATO.

While many military experts had expected Russia to conquer Ukraine in a matter of weeks, the war has turned into a David vs. Goliath slugfest … and we all know how that turned out.

“I’m amazed at the resilience of the Ukrainians,” Hewko said.

“Whatever it takes,” they told him, “we’re gonna win this war.”

More information on Rotary’s work in Ukraine is available at rotary.org.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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