Technical workers in Seattle with Ukrainian roots help build a website to facilitate the donation process for aid organizations

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

The prospect of sending money to somehow help Ukraine deal with the mounting fallout from the Russian invasion can seem overwhelming. Where to donate? How to donate Who to trust?

A new website called Pledge Ukraine, built with the help of tech workers in Seattle and beyond, and launched Friday morning, aims to take some of the guesswork out of contributing to global relief efforts for the war-torn country.

Sophy Lee, a technical director from Austin, Texas, has assembled a volunteer team of 11 researchers, programmers, and designers, as well as eight consultants, to quickly build the site and help flow money to more than 100 organizations inside and outside Ukraine.

(Logo via Promise Ukraine)

Some of those who help have friends and family in Ukraine, and some are Ukrainian. Lee was inspired by her close friend Andrey Liscovich, a former Uber executive who lived in San Francisco before leaving to return to his home country to lead a voluntary logistics operation.

Liscovich told Lee how difficult it is to connect people who are doing good work in Ukraine with people who are willing to help from elsewhere in the world.

“The 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 about how it started.”

Andrew is Andrew Lytvynov, a Seattle software engineer at the 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 friends and family in Ukraine via phone or social media, sending money. But he was frustrated that he wasn’t doing enough.

“You feel very helpless, you want to do something,” Lytvynov said. “When this idea came together, for me it was, ‘Okay, I can put so much of this fear, anger and emotion into a useful medium and it’s something that’s going to help Ukraine more than just my direct donations.”

The homepage of the Pledge Ukraine website. (Ukraine promise image)

Lytvynov and some other engineers had to build a brand new website, including: the site’s backend; a way to store all data about aid organizations in a structured way to enable query and filtering processes; set domain; hosting; an email inbox for feedback; and more.

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

Lytvynov reached out to his friend Natasha Fedo to help investigate and vet hundreds of organizations. Fedo, also born in Lviv, has lived in Seattle for 20 years and is currently a senior portfolio officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In her own time, she used some of the skills and knowledge she had developed.

“I can put so much of this fear, anger and emotion into a useful medium and it’s something that’s really going to help Ukraine.”

“In the world of nonprofits, in the world of donors, I definitely have a way of reviewing different nonprofits and trying to understand what they’re doing, where they’re coming from,” Fedo said.

Research became a big part of the project, with about 100 hours invested in researching each organization, communicating with them and entering information for the site.

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

“They say, ‘This is our country,'” Fedo said of why her family did not flee. “Like my mother, I begged her to leave and she says, ‘No. This is my house. I’ll stay here as long as I can.’”

That belief has motivated Fedo to help and feel productive.

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

A few volunteers from Pledge Ukraine, from left, Natasha Fedo, Andrew Lytvynov and Sophy Lee. (Photos courtesy of Pledge Ukraine)

Lee, who first saw Fedo during a video chat with Lytvynov and GeekWire, said she was inspired to see a group of people who have usually never met each other come together to get things done.

“We’re essentially strangers,” Lee said. “What does unite us is that we care a lot.”

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Lee’s hope is that Pledge Ukraine will provide a more trusted and unified way for people to help beyond the organizations lists in news stories or celebrity pleas on Twitter. The site does not collect money and visitors can select which type of organization to donate to, in categories such as food, medicine, refugees, children, animals, defense and more.

Lytvynov said tweaks and features could be added to help visitors better understand how bank transfers work. They’ll run data analytics on the site to find out how many people are visiting and clicking sites to help, but they won’t know how much money has been pledged. They aim to attract 100,000 people to the site in the short term and donate in an effective way.

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

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