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These tech startups are helping Ukrainians stuck in war and how

ukraine tech war

The UK Foreign Secretary’s support for Briton’s wanting to join Ukraine’s International Legion may have delighted middle-aged men with excessive Call of Duty experience, but many in the tech sector are finding more practical ways to support Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

Ukraine is home to a vibrant tech scene. Like many former Soviet states, the lifting of the Iron Curtain created opportunities that, combined with strong technical education and the advent of the internet, proved to be fertile ground for tech entrepreneurs. Many of them are now using their success to support Ukraine, and they are being joined by companies around the world.

Spreading the word

Modern warfare is not just waged on land, sea, and sky. Information, or propaganda, can be just as valuable a weapon. The growth of social media saw the arrival of Russian troll farms, which were used to sow discord in the West.

The Ukraine-based Reface app has been fighting back against that. With over 200 million users, they have used push notifications to share information. The app, which allows people to map their face onto other photos, might not seem a natural place for messaging about the Russian invasion. But the CEO, Dima Shvets, felt they needed to do something to raise awareness. The app now shares images and messages from the war zone, and is targeting their 5.5 million Russian users to share news and images the Russian state media are unlikely to show.

Protecting their staff

Other companies are taking steps to protect and support their staff. For some, this means helping them move out of the path of danger. JustAnswer, which connects people with experts, has hired extensively in Ukraine, and after it was affected by the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, developed plans to ensure staff safety. These are now helping staff create shelter spaces or even relocate to safer areas. Companies like Lyft and Uber are also helping staff relocate, as well as providing access to mental health support if needed.

Businesses are also ensuring they can still operate, but doing so in a way that supports their Ukrainian teams. Ukraine-founded Grammarly is moving operations from the country, allowing Ukrainian staff can focus on their families’ welfare, but it remains committed to the country, continuing to hire there, offering reassurance to staff that jobs are secure.

More practical matters are also getting support. Many businesses are funding things like medical care, or contributing to wider charities that offer that support to Ukrainians. JustAnswer is also establishing alternative payment methods, not just to help customers, but also to ensure their staff can be paid.

Funding defence and relief efforts

The invasion’s effects extend widely, and while those that are closest to the war zone may feel it more acutely, those further away will see the effects as services fail and refugees move across the country and over borders. Many have opted to support the charities, agencies, and even the forces, working to help the country.

Kyiv-based health and wellness platform, BetterMe donated UAH 1,000,000 (about GPB 25,000) to the Ukrainian army. Others are supporting the charity Come Back Alive, established in 2014, which raises funds to provide equipment like body armour and helmets to troops and volunteers defending Ukraine. Graphic design platform Awesomic has donated UAH 1,000,000 to this. Ukrainian ride-sharing service Uklon — which already made regular donations to the charity — has increased its monthly contribution to UAH 310,000 (about £7,750), while also committing to continue paying staff who take a leave of absence to volunteer for defence.

Others coming to Ukraine’s aid

Contributions also come from outside Ukraine’s borders. Three Dutch entrepreneurs, Ali Niknam (bunq), Joris Beckers (Picnic) and Robert Vis (MessageBird) have established the People for People foundation to support refugees fleeing the conflict. The foundation already has temporary accommodation in Bulgaria and Georgia, and is looking at other options to provide help, including support for Ukrainians looking to get a work visa for the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Polish initiative Tech to the Rescue is doing what the tech sector does best, using tech to solve problems. Founded at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group brought together over 140 companies that donated more than 23,000 hours of development time each month. They have already started developing sites and platforms. One of the first, razemzwami.pl, aims to provide authoritative information collated from reputable sources. They have also launched SOS UA, an AirBnB-style platform that will connect those seeking help with those that can provide it.

How you can help?

If you want to help, you can donate money through the Ukrainian embassy (although official Ukrainian sites appear to be subject to frequent DDoS attacks). Alternatively, a number of British and international charities are accepting donations for Ukraine.

The British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal is raising funds to provide practical support for those affected, like food, clothing, first aid and shelter.

The UN Refugee Agency accepts donations that will fund the emergency shelter, relief items and practical support.

UNICEF has been raising funds since 2014 to support Ukrainian children affected by conflict in the disputed areas.

For more TFN coverage on #StandwithUkraine, you can follow this page.

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