We stand behind our idea that people's stories should be told. That's why we're starting a series of articles about Bright people who volunteer. First is a story from Yevgen Gubanov, our COO. He's responsible for a huge part of Brightgrove's volunteering efforts. Today, you'll learn a bit about the behind-the-scenes of volunteering.
How it all started
In 2014, I helped our army for the first time with my friend, who also works in IT. Not as much as now, but we tried our best. So, I have some volunteering experience.
At that time, things like drones and thermal visors weren't that popular. Our primary focus was on binoculars, telescopic sights, bullpups, and cars. We'd been buying those actively for one year without collecting any money. Instead, we used personal savings and spent around $15k in total.
This experience helped me quickly set up our volunteer activity in 2022. First, I came together with the same friend again, and later two other people joined us. One is my uni classmate, and another is a friend of a friend. We started on the second week of the war, after evacuating and settling down a bit. We personally know people fighting for Ukraine now, so first, we focused on their requests for equipment.
What we're doing now
The overall list of the things we helped with includes:
- thermal visors
- night visors
- camo nets
- other stuff like clothes, mosquito sprays, etc.
We have a person to whom we send the things, and he then delivers everything to the frontline.
At the start of the war, we supplied meals for soldiers as there was a shortage of them in some regions. But then the government adjusted the logistics, solving that problem. In the middle of March, the unit we were in contact with told us a missile attack destroyed their ammunition depot. And things like drones and cars are especially important because they're basically consumables for the army. That's how we chose our primary volunteering efforts.
In March-April, we bought three cars. One lasted only three weeks; another one is still going strong. We're not sure what happened to the third one. We also managed to get that unit 3 Starlinks before the attack, 2 of which got destroyed.
Then we started collaborating with people who focus on getting cars from Europe and know the process's specifics. There are more steps than first may seem: finding the cars, buying them, resolving issues with European and Ukrainian border control, and documenting the whole process. Most vehicles should be serviced, delivered from the west of Ukraine to the east, have a full tank despite the current fuel market situation, etc.
With the help of those people, we got four cars from Europe. It still wasn't totally smooth: when we got the vehicles to Dnipro, one of them broke down and required serious servicing. My friend also bought two quad bikes. These are useful as roads in the heavily shelled areas are hardly roads anymore.
At first, we funded the purchases ourselves again. I'm careful with fundraising because spending other people's money comes with more responsibility. That's why I didn't make any informal requests in our corporate chats beside the time when one of our colleagues in the UAF needed a hand. I also know that, as a C-level manager, I have a certain level of trust that I never want to use to my advantage.
But later, we created the Bright Volunteers fund. Both our colleagues and the company itself contribute to the fund. This money helps us a lot, but we are careful about it. We don't have the task of spending everything we collect; we still focus on specific requests from our soldiers. Plus, we have another fund, Bright Defense, to support our employees who have decided to fight for our country. And we, of course, document and report everything.
Our clients also help with our volunteering efforts, sometimes by donating things we would've spent a lot on. For example, our partner PKW.de helped us with supplying cars. They're a top-3 vehicle marketplace in Germany, so we'd say they have some expertise on the topic.
We contacted them and explained the situation and our initiative. Currently, we've got six vehicles from PKW, which are now coming to Ukraine and being customs cleared. You can read more about PKW's initiative here.
The hurdles of volunteering
With cars, you can't guarantee how long they will last. But at some point, supplying them constantly became quite hard. First, you need to find vehicles for an adequate price, both in Ukraine and Europe.
The whole process of getting cars from Europe comes with some complications. First, vehicles should be insured to move around the EU. But European companies don't want the cars they insured to go into a country in a state of war. So, we had to get a car carrier to transport them across the border. It is more complicated, but it gets the job done.
Then, European cars should go through customs. The government lifted some taxes for the general public, so volunteers had to stay in the same line with them to get vehicles for the army. However, now the situation is resolved, there are separate volunteer checkpoints.
And let's not even go into the amount of documentation we need to work on during the process :) But, of course, all the efforts are worth it.
Another thing is that, at the beginning of the war, drones, for example, sold out not just in Ukraine but even in Europe. We found one drone in the US, and our colleague helped us get it to Ukraine. He found a friend who was going from the States to Poland and agreed to take the drone in his carry-on luggage. He could've been stopped for this at the border control (which thankfully didn't happen), but he was up for the job anyway.
Generally, when it comes to international delivery, it can be quite long, for both clear and unclear reasons. Things also get lost sometimes, unfortunately. We once ordered some ammunition from Turkey and lost about 20% of it. We don't know where it went wrong, but that's that. Now we primarily use our tried-and-true delivery services, which are both companies and people we know.
Lastly, there was a struggle with customs clearance for things like night visors. We, for example, had a package with them some time ago. The government allowed not to clear the things aimed for UAF right now. But first, we couldn't get the visors from the post office without paying nearly $1k. It took a lot of patience, calls to the central Ukrposhta office, and necessary documents to deal with this.
The reaction of people
The people who get all those things from us are very grateful and even a bit shy about it. For example, with both drones and cars, when we managed to get more of them than requested. The guys told us the initial amount was fine for them, and we could give the rest to somebody who needed it more.
Or once, we found an ambulance car in Poland and asked the guys if they needed it. They said they didn't even expect we could find something like that, but, of course, it would be very useful.
But generally, we are just glad our soldiers are a bit better equipped for the battle, so our victory is a bit closer. And that's the only thing we trust in. All will be Ukraine!