Overnight, Sergiy Gamaliy went from governing a sleepy agricultural region in Ukraine, to hosting more than 300,000 refugees streaming in from the east and orchestrating dangerous rescue missions to cities under siege. He did this all while trying to keep the schools running and the tractors harvesting. The Khmelnytskyi Oblast region which Gamaliy governs has become a distribution hub for humanitarian aid that is vital to other parts of Ukraine facing the worst conditions.
Listen to a special episode of All Inclusive as Jay and Governor Gamaliy discuss activism on the ground in Ukraine and stories of courage and hope in this fight for freedom.
If you’re looking to support people affected by the war in Ukraine, click here.
Sergiy Gamaliy is the governor of Khmelnytskyi Oblast in Ukraine, during the Ukranian-Russian War in 2022.
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Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to the “All Inclusive” podcast: stories of activism, change and courage.
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[media and sound of war from ukraine]
Jay Ruderman: A terrible war that is devastating the country, killing thousands, displacing millions.
Sergiy Gamaliy/Translator: we all realize that this was not only with the Russian Federation, that’s actually the war of good and evil.
Jay Ruderman: Today I’m going to talk with Sergey Gamaliy – The governor of Khmelnytskyi Oblast.
Overnight, Gamaliy went from governing a sleepy agricultural region in western Ukraine, to hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming in from the east and orchestrating dangerous rescue missions to cities under siege. He is doing this, while trying to keep the schools running and the tractors harvesting. The Khmelnytskyi Oblast region which Gamaliy governs has become a distribution hub for humanitarian aid that is vital to other parts of Ukraine facing the worst conditions. What can we do to help? I asked him. “Share the information about the war as much as you can,” was his response. So, today we will try to do just that.
Governor Sergiy Gamaliy 2:20
Hello Hello Hello everyone.
Hello Governor, thank you for making the time.
Governor Sergiy Gamaliy 2:27
Nice to meet you. I can speak yes? Because my English is not so good for the speaking.. I will be speaking in Ukrainian, and I have translator here, and she speak in English, it will be better for your ears.
I want to jump right in. Because I know that your time is valuable. I want to welcome you to All Inclusive. During this time of war, and tragedy in your country and your region. I appreciate you giving me a few minutes to talk about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and in your area. I wanted to start off by asking you today in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed, in which he said that the objective of Russia is to create 5 to 10 million refugees and force them out of the country. What has been your experience in your region, in terms of refugees fleeing from eastern part of Ukraine, through your region, to the countries bordering on the west?
At this point, we don’t have a Russian military troops in our region. Because the Ukrainian army is protecting the Khmelnytskyi region, and the Ukrainian army in the other region, like Mikolaj and Kiev are not enabling the Russian troops to get into our region at the moment. And the main goal for us for now is to have a humanitarian front in here in our region. Our region is ready to welcome all the refugees from the east that are coming, and that need some help. And we are ready to give them homes and food and supply and everything they will need.
The Russian troops at the moment are trying to block those refugees in their cities, and enabling them to receive food and health supply, medication, and everything they need. And our goal is to get those people out of those cities like Mikolaj and Kiev and other cities. Our main goal is to let those people come out of those cities and arrive here, we could give them all the help we can. For this moment, we are planning to provide our West regions of Ukraine with the food supply, because the other regions won’t be able to start the agriculture season and to plant all needed like seeds and bread and everything. So that’s going to be our plan to help the rest of the Ukraine, and this month. We believe we’re gonna win. And we believe in our Ukrainian army, we’re sure we’ll win this war. But at this point, we need to like our region – the main goal for our region is that we need to help all the refugees from the rest of the regions that are in need now. We have to help them and to help all those people who are like desperate, desperate at the moment. Before the beginning of war, the Ukrainian population was somewhere about 40 million people. And after the big cities like Kharkiv, and Mikolaj were hit. And after all those people have lost their homes, we realized that all those people will be coming into our region and we are ready to provide them with homes and places to live and work and to stay here. And our region is the population of Khmelnytskyi region is about 1,270,000 people. And at this point the Western regions are expecting to give homes for 10 million people from the Eastern part of the Ukraine, because we are the only region that could help them.
So Governor, let me ask you, with so many refugees coming through, how do you handle so many people coming in and passing through either staying, or passing through your region?
We using all kinds of housing, which is possible at this moment to give those people places to live, like schools and kindergartens. And for this moment, we have provided even less than 10% of the homes for the refugees that we are able to help. So out of the hundreds, even less than 10%. The most common people are taking other people from even from trains directly to their homes, trying to help. And a lot of families are welcoming all the refugees. Like everyone who can help, they’re trying to help and to provide homes for those people.. But also since March 14, we started the educational process for the kids that came from the Eastern part for the refugees. And now there are about 5000 kids, and they are coming, coming more. So we’re providing them with education. But also we have field hospital for the animals, we’re actually the only region who has that, because there were a lot of families or refugees who came with their like dogs and cats and other animals who took them here. And they also were hurt during the bombs and the invasion. So we also tried to help them we have already made 137 operations on those animals in order to help them as well, so they could go back later and the families they came with.
So Governor, I want to commend you for a time of war, trying to bring a sense of normalcy to your region to people in need, who are coming from eastern Ukraine, to children to provide them schools to provide for your population. And even for, you know, animals that are being brought, you’ve done a tremendous amount of work, and I’m sure you’re working 24 hours a day. I wonder if you could talk for a few minutes about your morale and the morale of the Ukrainian people during such a difficult time.
The more we are at war, the more we get united, all the Ukrainians get united and we all realize that this was not only with the Russian Federation, that that’s actually the war of good and evil. And we are representing the rest of the world, the good things and world, the democracy, the kindness, the happiness, the prosperity, everything good in the modern world, where Ukraine is represented now, and we are fighting the evil that is represented in Russia, in the name of the whole world. And we are sure that we will win this war in the name of the world and all the Ukrainians. And Ukraine is very peaceful country, we have never invaded any other countries or any other territories. But when some other people come to invade us, we are going to protect our land, we’re not going to give a piece of our land to anyone else. And this war is uniting all the Ukrainians all together. We’re gonna show the rest of the world that we will win this war. We have a big lines now of several people to join the Ukrainian military. No one’s hiding and no one’s running. We have big lines of people who want to go and fight for Ukraine.
So Governor, I’m wondering if you could tell us what was going through your head the moment you heard that Russia invaded Ukraine.
First day, I couldn’t believe in it. I thought it was something not real. Having War in the middle of the Europe, in the heart of the Europe, having a war that will kill several people was hard to believe. So first in the first days, it was kind of hard for me to believe that this thing is really happen.
Governor can you tell us one story that gave you hope? One thing that happened that you witnessed that you said you know this gives me hope in what’s happening and what my people are going through?
I have those stories mostly every day when I see those men are waiting in line to go to military to Ukrainian Army. Or when I see the old people who don’t have money at all, they come and give and are trying to give – our army guys are not taking that, but they’re trying to give their last money to the Ukrainian army in case they just might need something, or when people are calling us from all the parts of the world and trying to give us some help. So those stories are like happening all the time and every day. But I’m gonna tell you one story, if you want to know. We had this one case, when we needed to bring some humaritarian help to one of the cities that was bombed at that moment. As a matter of fact, we have already sent more than 300 tons of those help to different cities. But at that point, we really needed a track and the person who could take that stuff to that city. The track was supposed to go through the hotspot of Ukraine to the city that was bombed continuously. So basically, it was very dangerous for that person to go. So I called to a lot of owners on the transport companies who own those tracks and who have drivers and ask them whether any of the drivers were willing to go to that city. I’m not naming the city because I don’t want to say that out loud. But actually, the owner of the company said, “Okay, I will go myself.” He just asked for that address, and for the machine gun. And I gave him mine, and went to that hotspot. And he brought everything they needed and came back alive.
Very emotional. Governor, President Zelensky has become a worldwide figure standing for freedom against tyranny and authoritarianism. Have you had a chance to speak with President Zelensky during the war?
We are speaking constantly, either with him or with his deputies. And all the governors like me are speaking to him like most everyday. And because he’s an example for us. He’s staying at his place and doing what he’s got to do. And we’re doing our job in the regions as well.
So Governor, you and your region are going through the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II, with 1000s, 10s of 1000s, perhaps hundreds of 1000s of people traveling through your region. What can we do? What can people outside of Ukraine do to help Ukraine in this most dire situation?
Well, first of all, we really believe that economical sanctions against Russia will help a lot stopping their economy. With economical sanctions, we will be sure that less money will be spent on war against Ukraine. Besides that, we really need any humanitarian help, because a lot of cities have lost their provisions and places to stay. And like closing everything, people need any kind of help like that. Besides that, we’re gonna need to build new homes, so anything that could help with buildings, and building infrastructure and building our economics as well. Besides, we will need any kind of financial help that you could do, because we will give that to the refugees and put it into our economy, and close the skies. If you close the sky, we could find out all our enemies out of the Ukraine so they won’t have a chance. Also, we need you to share the information about war as much as you can, because the information is very important. Everyone should know that we are in war now. That’s not any kind of a military operation like Putin is trying to say. It’s real war, people are dying here. And the more people know about everything’s happening in Ukraine, about all the people who get hurt, dying, about destroyed cities, all the information that is shared, the more people know about that, the more help out of it, we will have.
Well Governor, I want to thank you for your time. I know this is a terribly difficult time with war and humanitarian crisis. I want to commend you for your courage and bravery and for the bravery of the Ukrainian people. for what you’re going through and fighting for freedom, not only for your country, but for the West. Thank you so much for your time and joining us on All Inclusive today.
Governor Sergiy Gamaliy 17:20
Thank you very much. Thank you, for you, for you’re helping and everything will be good and Ukraine will be the best country in the world. Oh, thank you very much. Thank you. Bye
Jay Ruderman: “All Inclusive” is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. I’m your host Jay Ruderman. Our show is produced by Yochai Maital, Jackie Schwartz and Matt Litman.