“Seeing my childhood friends who are civilians wearing bulletproof vests stopped me in my tracks,” says Yevhen (Zhenya) Goncharov ’13. The Irpin, Ukraine native and his wife, Lily, have put their lives and careers on hold to support their countrymen and women from afar. Taking a leave of absence from his Silicon Valley data science job and from her job as a nurse, the Goncharovs have been running on three hours of sleep a night and fielding hundreds of phone calls a day for the past four weeks raising awareness and funds to provide protective and rescue gear for the civilians in Yevhen’s hometown.
“When Lily gave me her blessing to do whatever I felt I needed to do to help, something exploded inside of me,” Yevhen says. Describing it as a “go green” moment, Yevhen leapt into action to identify how he could be the most impactful. After getting in touch with friends on the ground in Irpin, the Goncharovs discovered that the most pressing need is for protective gear like bulletproof vests and helmets to protect both those staying behind to help with evacuation efforts as well as those fleeing the war-torn city. One person put it this way: “We are thankful for blankets and crackers, but they are not going to protect us from flying bullets.”
Having identified the need, the Goncharovs called the closest dealer they could find and personally bought 14 bulletproof vests and 10 medical kits and sent them to Irpin. It was a start, but it wasn’t enough. After seeing his friends bravely remain behind to protect their hometown, Yevhen knew he had to do more. In three days, the Goncharovs raised $50,000, sent 200 more vests to Ukraine, and gave their cause a name—the Irpin Defense Aid (IDA).
“We’re focused on saving lives, not taking lives,” says Lily. “All of our guys on the ground are on the same page. It breaks my heart knowing that these young men who are risking their lives to help are out there unprotected.” All of the gear the IDA is sourcing is meant for defensive operations and rescue missions: vests for drivers and volunteers located in defense positions, drones, radios, medical kits, and thermal sights. To date, the efforts of the Goncharovs and the IDA team along with their friends and family at the Irpin Bible Church have helped evacuate 12,000 people. But there are an estimated 3,000 elderly people stuck in basements and makeshift bomb shelters whom they can’t reach, along with countless animals. Their mission is far from complete.
As the need grows and their operation gains support, the Goncharovs have begun partnering with logistics companies and equipment manufacturers who also want to help the people of Ukraine. They are currently working with Sig Sauer to source thermal sights that will help rescuers locate people trapped in rubble. As of the writing of this article, a plane furnished by a logistics company containing medical kits and 450 bulletproof vests is awaiting clearance to make its way to Ukraine. “The hardest part is waiting for the paperwork and the documentation and the logistics to clear because I know if we don’t get them out the door, we’re going to lose another guy,” Yevhen says.