Stanford students bring $100,000 in supplies to front lines in Ukraine

Aug. 23, 2022, 11:41 a.m.

After raising $100,000 in donations for Ukraine, two Stanford MBA students will donate ambulances and walkie-talkies to a city on the front lines of the war Wednesday, which marks Independence Day for the embattled nation.

Andrei Molchynsky MBA ’23, who was born and raised in Ukraine, has been involved in activism with the Ukrainian Student Association at Stanford since the war’s inception in February. Molchynsky joined forces with Army veteran Alex Clark MBA ’23 after the violence continued and the two wanted to find a way to help.

The pair first met up at Stanford’s Bass Biology Research Building “over stiff drinks and cigars” near the end of spring quarter. They quickly confirmed their mutual intent to call off their summer internships and go to Ukraine then decided to collaborate.

“We thought we could potentially amplify each other’s contribution,” Clark said: Molchynsky would contribute his connections in Ukraine and experience with fundraising and procuring resources, while Clark would add military experience and access the network of United States veterans.

The pair formulated their plan to travel to Ukraine amid the demanding schedule of a Stanford finals week. At times, the classes were a welcome escape from a much harsher reality.

“My winter and spring quarters were difficult,” Molchynsky said. “It’s probably the first time in my life I truly felt how education can be an escape from a very difficult life situation. I was actually looking forward to school because it provided me that window, a few hours where I don’t need to check my phone.” 

Once the school year ended, Molchynsky and Clark ramped up their efforts. The pair called their mission Project Independence Day and set their goal to arrive at their target city on Aug. 24, Ukrainian Independence Day. 

The team’s destination would be Molchynsky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, a city near the center of the country on the front lines. Kryvyi Rih, which is also the birthplace of the country’s president, now houses many refugees from nearby Eastern Ukraine. 

The city’s medical system has been struggling under the weight. In particularly high demand are 4×4 ambulances, Molchynsky said, adding that “Some vehicles break down, and a lot of vehicles are attacked on purpose by the Russians, so transportation is a huge need.” Walkie talkies, which help medical personnel enter areas where there is no signal, were also much-needed, he said.

Next came the fundraising. “We set our raise for $100,000 because we thought that would get us the four ambulances,” Clark said. To bolster their fundraising efforts, Clark recruited the help of some friends. 

In June, Clark reached out to his former West Point classmate Brian Bui, an MBA student at Harvard Business School who served as an intelligence officer in South Korea. When Clark called to explain the project, Bui was immediately onboard. “Before he even finished his spiel, I’d already mentally committed,” Bui said. 

Jonathan Klein, a masters student in international affairs at Johns Hopkins, is also an old friend of Clark. “I’ll do it, but I want to be in Ukraine,” he told the team. Klein, a former infantry officer in the 101st Airborne, also contributes tactical skills to the mission. 

The fifth and final member going to Ukraine is Ross MBA student Sam Ashley, who met Clark through their summer internship.

The team is small by design, said social media director Sierra Duren, who will be aiding the mission from the U.S. “There’s a reason why this particular group of guys are going, and it’s because they have extensive military training to be able to keep themselves safe,” she said. “You can’t bring a whole team of 20 people, using up all your money on just that, and go on a social media binge in a war-torn country. That’s not what they’re about.”

Next, Project Independence Day set up donation transactions with the Ukrainian Freedom Fund (UFF), whose Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Woods received his MBA from Stanford in 2021. The team also organized fundraisers with Salesforce, Boston Consulting Group and Bain and Company, as well as British-Ukrainian Aid and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

 “You have to be out there and you have to be a bit shameless, in both negotiating and asking for donations,” Clark said. “For the lack of a better word, a lot of hustling.” 

The hustling has paid off: As of last week, the team passed their fundraising goal, though they plan to continue accepting donations through Wednesday.

The team met nightly on Zoom meetings from across the country this summer, but planned to meet Monday face-to-face in Eastern Europe. The crew plans to procure their equipment and then travel as a caravan to Ukraine for delivery. 

“While a convoy does have a larger footprint and signature that may draw attention, I think there’s definitely safety in numbers,” Bui said. “We definitely want to be together and with Ukrainian contact partners, who are able to help us navigate some of those situations.”

Though the team is confident in their preparations, they defer to Ukrainians’ knowledge of the situation on the ground. “At the end of the day, we’re gonna be in there for about a week, but there’s people who have to live there every single day,” Bui said. “We want to be conscious of that and use them as a resource.”

The team also stressed the importance of flexibility: “An approach that I’m trying to take is not being too committed to one part of the plan,” Klein said. “It’s only as good as one little speed bump, and all of a sudden you’re taking another course of action.” The team has several vendors lined up in case of a change in inventory and is open to adjusting their timeline.

The team also plans to document their journey on social media with what Clark calls “radical transparency.” The crew will film progress updates on the ground, then send the footage to social media director Duren, also a senior video editor at the Stanford Center for Professional Development, who will post them to the project’s social media.

Yet, Duren is cautious of how much she shares. “With an initiative like this, and especially with an enemy that is very social media savvy, we have to be very careful about any and all media that go out,” Duren said. “Russia does target civilians first, and they target ambulances and health care workers at the top of that list.” 

While Project Independence Day is a high-stakes tactical mission, for Molchynsky, it’s also a homecoming. 

“Last time I was in my hometown was for my cousin’s wedding pre-COVID,” he said. “Since then, he has had two kids, who were born in late January. So I’m excited to see my nephews, I guess. But again, it’s very surreal.”

Despite the sacrifices he’s made to support Ukraine, Molchynsky thinks little of the impact on his own life. 

“Frankly, I don’t really think much about my mental health because of everything that’s going on on the ground,” Molchynsky said. “My friends and family are involved in the war effort, so you always put yourself in their shoes. Yes, things may be stressful on my end, but they’re not as stressful as for them, so you don’t really have a right to complain.”

The team said they’re optimistic that the relief mission will be successful. But Bui added, “You don’t have to go to Ukraine to make a difference.”

“Find small ways to give back,” he said, whether that’s by donating funds or volunteering time.

Cameron Duran '24 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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