First of all, I want to thank everyone for still being here, still following our journey, and still being willing to help. It’s been 14 days since the Russian invasion, to me, my family in Ukraine it feels like forever. To people on the ground fighting, to people hiding in shelters that feels like an eternity. But we are all trying, I know we are. I barely slept these weeks and I *know* that YOU barely slept too. And I know you are burnt out, I feel that. It’s a boiling pressure that is on our core leadership and each of you. At the end of the day, we all cry, because how can you not?
I know you feel like are we even doing anything here? Where are the results? Is my time off from work worth it? I know many of you took time off from work to volunteer, and you are not even Ukrainian. I’m not only forever grateful for that but I’m inspired, inspired because of the values, experience and willingness to help, that you all bring to this crazy chaotic group of people. And I want to share a couple of personal moments with you, just to give you a snapshot that it’s ok to feel like you do and we are here to support you.
I was at the public place yesterday trying to fill out the paperwork and deal with some personal life stuff, and I was explaining all this to a manager dealing with me, and she was just “wtf is going on, who is this sketchy guy and what is he talking about”. And I get slack pings about the fact that we need to sign the paperwork for the bus to be able to go through. First of all, who am I to give such power to that? How come my signature all of a sudden means so much? How come I’m in charge of so many lives? Should I even sign it?
And then, a 14-day friend of mine from our slack sends me a message about some other evacuation bus with teachers and orphans being shot on the road with casualties. I read that, I sign that paperwork and I sit on the chair and I cry for 5 minutes straight, I just cry like a baby. And the manager lady is just freaking out, giving me out tissues in panic.
My wife told me I looked worse than that Kardashian crying meme for someone who doesn’t get the context. But that’s the context we are living in, unfortunately for some people this war is far and not relevant, for most in our slack it’s not, it’s very close. And you read enough to understand already to be quite numb to the harsh reality, that’s why I’m not going to focus on that. I’m going to focus on another story, where I’ve been building relationship with a core volunteer and I felt their stress each day I talked with them, I felt the pressure and all the frustration of our “chaotic dysfunctional organization” and today I really tried to help and instead they lost it at me, screamed and simply said “goodbye” and left.
And that’s ok, I know why that happened and I feel for them, I don’t blame them and I certainly want to make sure that if you ever feel like you need to just quit - please do, especially if you don’t have family in Ukraine, I get it. It’s not a weakness, it’s a smart thing to do. But if you feel like you can help, if you feel like you are still lost, still not clear where to go and how to apply your brainpower - we have a very important update for you. And this is where I start saying “we”, there is no corporate structure, there is no board of advisors, there is just us - people who are making things happen.
And we do, trust me on this. We are not just running around screaming “evacuation”, there are hundreds of people that work each day on different pieces of the whole infrastructure. And sometimes (who am I kidding it’s most of the time) you can’t really piece all these random things together. But we see them being glued together and day by day improving the chaos, leading to a marginal improvement that in our case is another life here or there saved. Can we accept this small marginal improvement of one life per day? Oh yeah we can, because each life matters and if we can save at least one per day - it’s worth it.
But I will be very clear with you, we are beyond a counter of 500 evacuated people across different parts of our organization. I could say 1000 but I literally just don’t have the correct number. It’s very hard to force a driver, bus full of kids and mothers to be on the camera when they are PTSD and are scared to death because of bombs and actual shootings at the buses. We are doing our best to document the counters of lives but we still focused on the lives, not the counters. For other areas it’s a bit easier to quantify things and you should keep us accountable to that, like the i3_help-abroad team that helps with hosting refugees abroad, they placed 183 families abroad, 143 still in progress, communicated with almost a thousand people to date and now dealing with hundreds of requests per day.
We’ve gone from a call for people to come together to a group that has:
- Helped many flee from danger into safer areas of Ukraine
- Provided assistance at border crossings (who knew my signature is worth something, still can't comprehend that)
- Begun the work of finding shelter, supplies and job for those arriving in new countries
- And most importantly, created a safe environment for people to come to and feel like there is a hope, the hope of being evacuated where there is no one that can help you, the hope of being helpful and somewhat effective.
- Secured partnerships with Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Webflow, Zapier, Airtable. More than $50,000 in support for tech infrastructure right there.
Who are we not?
- We are not a “do-it-all” group, we pick our priorities and pick them right. We are ONLY focused on evacuation and resettling, as part of our humanitarian mission.
- We are not a crazy bunch of people that hype it up and risk the lives of others for the sake of publicity and counters. We’ve been operating moderately safe and silent with the exception of 3 articles about us here, here and here.
- We are not an offensive group and we can’t win that fight. We are a non-profit entity focused on social good. And yes, it’s a war and believe me, I’m Ukrainian and I feel guilty about not going there and picking up the rifle to defend my family. But I truly believe each of us has an amazing soul and brain that has the capacity to beat evil. And the sad fact is that evil is much easier to create than social good, even though it’s our natural desire to help and aid.
So what’s the point of this email?
What’s the big update with all this wall of text?
It’s to clarify the next steps and give everyone a much-requested “Vision”.
We are here to stay, no matter how long war takes I will be here and some of you will be here. We will help deal with war, we will help deal with the side-effects of war. And most importantly, we will rebuild Ukraine and make it better than it was. A stronger, independent, proud country with a bunch of friends, the friends that will know they helped as they could. They will travel to Ukraine when things are okay, meet those people we saved and know they were a part of it, forever ingrained in the history of good.
Now some hard facts.
We’ve gone from a call for people to come together to a group that has:
- Grew from 10 people to 2,380 on slack and 4000+ volunteers total.
- Received 25,819 requests for evacuation, 3,010 requests for shelter.
- Built something fast because the need was urgent.
- We’ve learned a tremendous amount in doing so and now we have great resources and world-class partners.
- We have superb advisors on how to run an operation of this sort, and we’re learning how to put their expertise to use in helping provide relief.
- We also have a range of issues that we need to solve, and to ensure everyone is safe and that we can be as effective as we can over time, that’s why WE ARE TAKING A PAUSE.
What does it mean to you?
It means going to hang out with your friends, visiting your parents, spending some time to counsel your family members that are in and out of shelters in Ukraine. It’s about watching a freaking movie once in two weeks. It’s about having a proper dinner instead of shoving food up your throat because you have another driver to dispatch and another family to save.
It’s so easy to get into the realization that every minute of the work you do is going to help save a life, and guess what it most probably will. But there will be no one saved if you drop sick and stop, because you took on the responsibility, you learned so much during these weeks that there is no one to replace you and that is a pressure we can’t handle. That’s why we need to take a pause and truly understand how to protect you, a volunteer that hasn't slept and ate, so we can get you to save thousands of lives in the coming weeks.
So my promise to you is:
- No work has been wasted, even if your idea or code has gone away and is no longer used, it helped us. It helped us learn how to do the next thing, how to glue things together and achieve at least something.
- When we restart active operations (48-72hrs), we will be prepared for round-the-clock operations, with clear channels of communication, a clear organizational structure (that still supports crowdsourced efforts), and everything in place so that we can work as a team, with everyone aware of what we’re doing as an organization.
- We will be reaching out to you but don’t hesitate to reach out to us, two channels are open for your introductions and ideas in the meantime, #public-introductions and #public-ideas. These are self-explanatory but please just make sure you don’t publish any sensitive information, cause these are public channels.
- We will talk with EACH team and with all of you to see what we’ve learned, and to take the time to understand how to relieve your load, we are capable of that, just need time.
The last 14 days have been the fastest, largest organizational prototype ever. I’m proud of each of you that helped even a bit, even if you just said hello to us and said how much you value what we are doing.
So now, we get ready for the urgent, long-term work, and doing it in a safe, professional and managed yet self-organized environment. Because you still have to take the lead, to assume you are suggesting something that makes sense until someone points out it does not. There is no absolutely right solution and we have to adjust on the fly. I know I will, I will pull the lever when I feel like we need to, and I need you to be there with me to support us on this journey and course correct if you think I’m doing something absolutely stupid. Most of you are used to traditional corporate environments and have never experienced “this”. And since you are taking a pause, go grab some popcorn and watch a keynote we did in 2020 about what we learned about this type of volunteer organizations.
And the last practical note, we are setting up a dedicated group to help our teams to streamline the organizational and communication challenges. c1-orgstructure team (@Evgeniy Rohovets, @iuliia k, @Stepan Grb, @Dara Lsn) will be reaching out to your teams shortly to discuss the challenges your team faces and find ways how we can provide you with more support. Please make sure to meet with them in the next few days.
Does this make any sense?
Just reply and tell me what you think, cause I’m sure you have ideas, feedback and most importantly frustrations about this.
Thank you and hopefully you made it to the end of this crazy long email.
Thank you for being here. I, my family and my country will be forever grateful and in debt ❤️ 🇺🇦