Palm Springs Rotary Club member, compelled by the call of service, is headed to Ukraine

When Russia first invaded Ukraine last year, Nicholas Campbell was struck by the images of the more than eight million refugees fleeing the country. Now he’s headed to help.
Nicholas Campbell (center) with other Rotarians. (Photo courtesy Kevin Taylor)

Next week, a member of the Rotary Club of Palm Springs Sunup will depart for a Ukrainian city near the Hungarian border to help provide aid in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

Nicholas Campbell will volunteer for two months with Malteser International in Berehove, a city in Zakarpattia, Ukraine. The humanitarian aid organization is the relief agency for the Catholic Sovereign Order of Malta, which has a mission to “serve the poor and the sick.” 

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When Russia first invaded Ukraine last year, Campbell, like many, was struck by the images of the more than eight million refugees fleeing the country.

“It is heartbreaking that mothers still have to flee their homes with babies in their arms, and emigrate to foreign countries without the prospect of ever being able to return,” he said.

Campbell’s own family tree is marked by similar refugee stories. A century ago, his great-uncle Gregory Strelbitzky and his wife Olga arrived in the United States after fleeing Ukraine, which was still a part of Russia at the time.

“I read his arrival documents at Ellis Island,” Campbell said. “I learned that they had left Europe with a newborn baby, but it passed away on the voyage over.”

Campbell also grew up hearing stories about his family, like his great-grandfather, who fought in World War I and eventually joined the White Army in the Russian Civil War before emigrating to the United States in 1923. Campbell’s? grandmother even spoke fluent Russian.

“I still have deep pride in my Russian and Ukrainian heritage and culture,” Campbell said. “It saddens me deeply to see the level of hate and animosity now directed towards Russians. It is always worrying when we dehumanize our fellow man [and turn] them into caricatures.”

Campbell originally chose to volunteer with Malteser International, rather than more well-known groups like the Red Cross, because of a family connection. When he was 16 years old, he attended his step-grandfather’s investiture as a knight into the Order of Malta. “The ceremony was filled with the pomp and ancient rituals befitting a 900-year-old order,” Campbell said. 

Still, Campbell mulled over the decision to volunteer for months before finally making the jump. 

“My family and friends support me,” he said. “The entire country isn’t war-torn; there aren’t bullets flying as soon as you step out the door.”

Campbell is preparing for the trip by reading the diaries of other volunteers and combing through every book he can find in the library. While in Ukraine, he will mainly work in a warehouse, sorting through donations and retrieving donations from Hungary. Campbell hopes to keep a journal of his own while he’s there, and to continually update his friends and family about his experience. 

And one of the things he is most excited about, Campbell says, is the opportunity to connect the Rotary Club of Palm Springs Sunup with other Rotary clubs in the area, which are working on projects that would provide power generators to Ukraine, as well as open up a school for refugees. 

Though Campbell initially struggled with determining how he could provide aid to Ukraine while still being against the war, he found solace in the words of Imre Kozma, a priest and the founder of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta: “We cannot take part in the war, we cannot stay out of the relief effort.”

“It is important to find a way to end the conflict peacefully and to respect the self-determination of all nations, regardless of their political ideologies,” Campbell told his fellow Rotarians at a recent morning meeting, “It is up to us to work towards a more peaceful and just world.”


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