Emory Morsberger spent a month traveling around Ukraine, delivering medical supplies to clinics and hospitals in the war torn country, but he said the real heroes are Rotarians on both sides of the world.
Morsberger was accompanied by Ukrainian Rotarians as he traveled around that country. They went from town to town and tried to avoid fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces along the way.
But, the medical supplies they were delivering — which ranged from surgical drills to bandages and other supplies that can be used in triage-type situations — were collected through the efforts of Rotarians here in Georgia, who had been looking for a way to help the people of Ukraine during their country’s war with Russia.
“Rotarians are generally business people,” said Morsberger, who is a local Rotarian. “And, the Rotarians that have been involved in this project have worked miracles at getting pennies. When money is donated, we will negotiate prices down or actually get equipment donated.”
Morsberger’s trip was the result of several Rotarians efforts, including Chris Brand, who is the CEO of Friends of Disabled Adults and Children (also known as FODAC), and Radu Zernoveanu, Jr., and Rotarians in eastern Europe.
The effort is being referred to as the “Great Rotarian Relay,” because of the number of Rotarians around the world who have been involved in it.
“It all started on February 24,” Zernoveanu said. “My father and I were both on the news and we were very anxiously and nervously watching the developments there. And immediately after the bombing started, it took us a little bit to get out of the shock that it’s actually possible for something like that to happen nowadays. Then I immediately — the next day — I gave him a call to see what could we do.”
Zernoveanu said, while he is in the U.S., his father is in Romania, but they are both Rotarians. At first, they helped some refugee families, but they saw there was a need for greater assistance.
“We decided that we need to put our networks together to create a supply chain that would be able to assist with everything that was going to come from those bondings,” Zernoveanu said. “So immediately afterwards we started putting together the connections within the Rotary District 2241 in Romania; started contacting the district Ukraine to try to establish how — if any — distribution that will be able to facilitate distribution there locally.
“And on my side, I started working with the Rotary District 6900 here in Georgia to put together a small team that could assist with collection of funds and of different types of equipment supplies that can be sent there.”
Zernoveanu then got connected with Brand, who had been at a district meeting where local Rotarians were trying to come up with a way to help the Ukrainians. Brand and Zernoveanu were introduced to each other a few days after the district meeting, and that led to FODAC’s involvement.
FODAC is a Tucker-based medical equipment supplier that has an existing disaster relief set up. At first, they used an existing partnership with UPS to get some supplies shipped to Poland, where they could be taken into Ukraine.
“it was naturally a great opportunity for us to help our District leverage really deep discounts through our nonprofit to get some of these very, very valuable medical supplies,” Brand said. “And, after our first couple of shipments working with Radu and his network over there, you know, sometimes he would direct it; they would direct it to Poland.”
Eventually, a new shipment with about $50,000 in wound therapy systems and $35,000 in surgical drills, which could not be sourced in Europe, were ready to go over.
And, that is where Morsberger came into the picture. He knew Brand from his previous work with the community improvement district in the Tucker area, and volunteered to take the drills himself to Ukraine to ensure they got there safely while other equipment and supplies was shipped.
“Emory was amazing to be able to hand deliver those in advance of our shipment going, and then other items like pediatric incubators are still arriving,” Brand said.
Morsberger said he met up with Rotarians in Bucharest, Romania after he flew to Europe in early June.
“There’s several hundred Rotarians in Romania that have been working since the beginning of the war to move truckloads of, of supplies, food supplies, medical equipment, across the border to warehouses in Ukraine, where Rotarians then distribute to Northern Ukraine,” Morsberger said.
“I was driven across the border by two Rotarian women. The men are not allowed to leave the country, so the only way that you can get back and forth is generally with women driving you back and forth. And, it’s best if somebody from Ukraine is driving you, rather than you driving yourself into a country, that’s at war.”
Morsberger said, after he entered Ukraine, he saw several refugees who were displaced from their homes because of the war.
“They were disrupted and forced out of their homes, under great pressure, and suddenly ended up in all parts of Ukraine,” he said. “They were set up in housing, in houses, apartments school classrooms.
“I interviewed several in school classrooms in gymnasiums, and they are staying in those places until they can go home. Most of the refugees were women and children. The men are either fighting in the army or they’re still working.”
Morsberger recalled crossing a bridge that was near the war zone after he left Kyiv, and being told by a doctor who is working in the war zone that Russian forces had been trying to hit the bridge and take it out for some time.
“And, last week they hit the bridge again,” Morsberger said. “You probably saw it on TV, but it’s still functional.”
After that, Morsberger headed to western Ukraine and continued meeting with Rotarians and talked to organizers who are overseeing relief efforts from 65 Rotary Clubs, including food distribution efforts.
But, Morsberger some of moments that stuck with him involved delivering the medical supplies.
He recalled meeting with one doctor, who is a Rotarian himself and a Paul Harris Fellow, at a hospital in Kyiv.
“He proudly showed me his (Paul Harris Fellow) plaque on his wall,” Morsberger said. “And he looked at those, he had tears in his eyes, there were several other surgeons there.
“They had shown me a lot of pictures of what basically bombs do to people and what kind of operations they were dealing with. He looked at the drills, and was very excited to receive them.”