Courtesy: Alex Iskold
Just over a month after Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Alex Iskold tries to take into account the reality of his native country while lending a helping hand as best he knows how.
Iskold, who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine at age 19, is a venture capitalist and managing director of 2048 Ventures in New York. He is also a technology entrepreneur and co-founder of the 1K projecta non-profit organization that allows anyone to donate $1,000 directly to a Ukrainian family.
So far, the project has raised over $3.5 million and helped 3,500 families. But Iskold, now 49, knows the crisis ahead for Ukraine, a country of 44 million people, is about to get worse no matter how much fighting ends.
More than 4 million Ukrainians fled to neighboring countries, more than half of whom entered Poland, as the Russian army shelled population centers. Millions more will certainly lack basic necessities in the distant future and will need money for food, medicine, clothing and transport.
“There are many ways to donate, but when you donate directly, you know a family is better off because you helped them,” Iskold said in an interview.
For a family of three to four, $1,000 only lasts about a month, he said. With more than 70,000 families already waiting for help and more and more applications arriving every hour, the project needs individual and corporate sponsors to keep contributing.
“This is a strong call to action as businesses could make a significant difference, and we are confident we are the right vessel to deliver aid,” he said. “I hope companies can step in and help us reach more families.”
The concept behind Project 1K is simple: an individual donates $1,000, which is sent directly to a Ukrainian family.
Iskold started the 1K project for a different purpose. Him and Chrysi Philalithes, a fellow entrepreneur and start-up investor, created it in 2020 to help Ukrainian families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Iskold revived it when Russia invaded Ukraine.
“For me, the 1K project is an outlet, a coping mechanism,” said Iskold, who left Ukraine in the early 1990s to escape anti-Semitic persecution. “I could be sitting on the couch watching TV for hours, or I could be helping out in a different way.”
The 1K Project team consists of more than 50 volunteers, many of whom work 10-hour weeks, from across the United States as well as Latvia, Ukraine, France, and Kazakhstan. The operations team, responsible for reviewing family applications and responding to sponsors, includes high school students and Iskold’s own children. Engineers come from companies such as Techstars, Yahoo, Mozilla, Venmo, and Citigroup.
“We have the best engineering talent I’ve ever seen,” Iskold said. “They move at the speed of light.”
The group needs it because “the engineering challenge is huge,” Iskold said, adding that his experience with distributed systems helped him develop the technology. The team, on the other hand, collaborates using software such as AirTable, Slack, Notion and Front.
“It’s just this amazing combination of code and people that we use to get the job done,” he said.
To request assistance, families complete a single form. They need a bank card that accepts local currency to receive assistance. Of the applicants, around 40% are still in their hometown in Ukraine, 20% are refugees outside the country and 40% are displaced.
Once a volunteer reviews an application, this information is passed on to a sponsor, who then sends the money by Wise, a multi-currency money transfer service. The money is deposited directly into the family’s bank account so that the funds are accessible even if they are on the move.
Courtesy: Alex Iskold
“We wanted the system to exist and have been constantly writing code while we’re funding families,” Iskold said. “We’re almost 100% automated where possible, including checking apps for basic errors. Still, support emails and texts for families and sponsors keep us busy.”
Cryptocurrencies can also be donated. When this happens, they are sold for cash, which is sent to families using Wise and converted into Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia. A partner organization called Open Collective accepts donations over $1,000, whether in cash, stocks, or cryptocurrency.
People have taken advantage of the crypto option in creative ways, Iskold said. meta angelsa community of people working on digital art in the form of non-fungible tokens, created a set of unique NFTs and sold nearly $50,000 for the 1K project.
Iskold said there is a widespread sense of responsibility people feel towards helping Ukrainians. Many are watching the war unfold and looking for ways to help.
Ukrainian officials have pushed for a ceasefire agreement and a resolution to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the Kremlin invasion. At peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Russia said it would scale back its attacks on Ukraine, but military forces continued to carry out strikes around the capital, kyiv.
Iskold’s efforts are not enough to deal with the devastation, but for some families, that may be all they have.
“The 1K project is a bridge until affected families can get back on their feet,” he said.
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