Ukrainian-born Seattle techs help create a website to make the donation process easier for aid groups

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A rally in support of Ukraine at the Seattle Center. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Fedo)

The prospect of sending money to somehow help Ukraine cope with the mounting consequences of the Russian invasion can seem overwhelming. Where to donate? How to make a donation ? Who to trust?

A new website called Pledge Ukrainebuilt with the help of technicians in Seattle and beyond, and launched Friday morning, aims to take some guesswork out of contributing to the global relief effort directed at the war-torn nation.

Sophie Leean Austin, Texas-based tech executive assembled a volunteer team of 11 researchers, programmers, and designers, alongside eight advisors, to quickly build the site and help funnel money to more than 100 organizations around the world. inside and outside Ukraine.

(Logo via Pledge Ukraine)

Some of those helping have friends and family in Ukraine, and some are Ukrainians. Lee was inspired by her good friend Andrey Liscovitch, a former Uber executive who lived in San Francisco before leave to return to their country of origin to run a volunteer logistics operation.

Liscovitch told Lee how difficult it was to connect people doing good work in Ukraine with people willing to help elsewhere in the world.

“Matching is really inefficient,” Lee said. “So I literally scribbled something on a piece of paper, texted it to Andrew and he said, ‘Hey, let’s build this. And that’s pretty much how it all started.

Andrew is Andre Lytvynov, a Seattle-based software engineer with data warehousing company Snowflake. Originally from Lviv, Ukraine, Lytvynov moved to the Bay Area about eight years ago and to Seattle four years ago.

Until a week ago, when he started on the Pledge Ukraine site, Lytvynov kept in touch with his friends and family in Ukraine by phone or through social media, and he sent money. But he was frustrated that he wasn’t doing enough.

“You feel very helpless, you want to do something,” Lytvynov said. “When that idea came to fruition, for me it was, ‘OK, I can put a lot of that anxiety and anger and emotion into useful media and that’s something that actually goes help Ukraine more than my direct donations.’

The homepage of the Pledge Ukraine website. (Engagement Ukraine Picture)

Lytvynov and a few other engineers had to create a website from scratch, including: the backend of the site; a means of storing all data on aid organizations in a structured way to enable query and filtering processes; domain configuration; accommodation; an email inbox for comments; and more.

“Most of the time was spent building the interface of the website, making all parts of the UI consistent, usable on mobile, translating everything into a few languages, because we hope that ‘it will reach a global audience,’ Lytvynov said.

Lytvynov reached out to his friend Natasha Fedo to help search and review hundreds of organizations. Also from Lviv, Fedo has been in Seattle for 20 years and is currently a Senior Portfolio Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In her spare time, she put some of the skills and knowledge she developed to good use.

“I can put so much of this anxiety and anger and emotion into useful media and it’s something that will really help Ukraine.”

“Having been in the nonprofit world, the donor world, I definitely have a way of evaluating different nonprofits and trying to understand what they do, where they come from. come,” Fedo said.

Research became a big part of the project, with around 100 hours invested in reviewing each organization, communicating with them, and capturing information for the site.

Fedo’s mother, aunts, uncles and cousins ​​still live in Lviv. The western town was part of a safe corridor to neighboring Poland and had not seen heavy fighting – until Friday.

“They say ‘This is our country,'” Fedo said when explaining why his family didn’t flee. “Like my mum, I begged her to leave and she said, ‘No. This is my house. I’m going to stay here as long as I can.

This belief motivated Fedo to help and to feel productive.

“It’s incredibly hard to feel helpless and helpless, to see all the suffering that’s happening and to constantly watch the news and worry,” Fedo said. “I needed an outlet to do more than transfer dollars…which I do too.”

Some Pledge Ukraine volunteers, left to right, Natasha Fedo, Andrew Lytvynov and Sophy Lee. (Photos courtesy of Pledge Ukraine)

Lee, seeing Fedo for the first time during a video chat with Lytvynov and GeekWire, said she was inspired that a group of people who had mostly never met had come together to get things done.

“We’re basically strangers,” Lee said. “What unites us is that we care a lot.”

Lee’s hope is that Pledge Ukraine will provide people with a more reliable and consistent way to help beyond lists of organizations in news stories or tweeted calls from celebrities. The site does not collect money and visitors can select the type of organization they wish to donate to, in categories such as food, medicine, refugees, children, animals, advocacy, etc. .

Lytvynov said tweaks and features could be added to help visitors better understand how bank transfers work. They will run data analytics on the site to find out how many people visit and click on the help sites, but they won’t know how much money is pledged. They have a short-term goal of attracting 100,000 people to the site, by donating effectively.

“I think what we’ve built in a fairly short period of time is an example of how you can use technology to support some coordination during chaos,” Lee said. “As the situation changes and evolves, we want to make sure we are too, and we’re helping people do what has the most impact.”

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