After violinist Kamneev Rai ’16 graduated from Augustana, she moved to Estonia to perform and participate in conducting festivals. She was back in her hometown of Arlington Heights, Ill., when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
It was her passion and patriotism for Estonia, which underwent past Soviet and German occupations, that compelled her to leap into action to aid refugees from Ukraine. Rai also saw parallels with her own familial heritage — her grandparents are from Punjab, India, which has suffered violent oppression due to the British partition of India in 1947.
When Rai arrived in Ukraine, she was one of only a few women working to support refugees at the border of Medyka, Poland, and Shehyni, Ukraine. She helped deliver supplies, medicines, food and toys to shelters in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, and other surrounding cities. She also assisted with coordinating extractions, getting refugees to the border and helping them locate transportation or lodging until they could reach the airport or bus station.
Today Rai assists in averting human trafficking and connecting volunteers with suppliers to ensure goods get to those who need it most. She is affiliated with a number of relief organizations that send strategic teams into the country’s eastern regions, including Kharkiv, Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Pochaiv, Lutsk and Odessa. She works independently as well.
Conversant in five languages, Rai is able to connect with volunteers, refugees, border agents and others from many countries. This goes a long way in building trust and rendering aid.
She speaks mostly Ukrainian with her young music students to bridge the language gap and build a connection of understanding.
Teaching music to young students came about when Rai’s relief efforts started expanding, and villages in need of support were identified. Rai noticed the children and adult refugees staying at a school in a small village had no form of engagement or entertainment. She offered to teach a music class, and the teacher in the village asked if she could also invite children from the village and neighboring villages.
Like other aspects of her service work, Rai said she assessed the field, found something she could provide and offered to help.
In whatever capacity she can, Rai is committed to serving those in need.
“Even and especially when the war is over, there will be much to rebuild, and I will be here,” she said.