SOM students partner to bring relief to Ukrainian refugees
As Russian tanks rumbled into Ukraine in late February, Ali Platon called her sister Claudia, who lives in Romania about 30 miles from the Ukrainian border. Claudia described the plight of Ukrainians suddenly seeking refuge in Romania. Platon, a first-year student in the Yale School of Management’s (SOM) executive MBA program, was determined to help.
“I grew up in Romania, and there were many Ukrainians where we lived,” said Platon. “My great grandfather was Ukrainian, and I worked for seven years at a Russian company where many of my colleagues were Ukrainian. As soon as the war started, I felt compelled to find ways to help those whose lives have been upended by the Russian invasion.”
Ella Archibald, a second-year student in the executive MBA program, completed medical school in Ukraine and had worked at a regional state hospital outside of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Like Platon, she resolved to support Ukrainian refugees.
“I was the hospital’s medical director,” said Archibald, who worked as a nurse practitioner at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City after coming to the United States. “The Ukrainians I’ve met are very kind and hardworking people. They are willing to help others. When I saw what was happening, the awful scenes on the news, I knew I must help them in this moment of suffering.”
At first, the two worked separately. Archibald donated money to her former hospital and reached out to students at Yale and other universities to rally support for the Ukrainian people. Platon created a website where people could make donations and access information on how to help the refugees. With support from the SOM community, she collected more than $20,000 in less than two weeks. Working with her sister, who was on the ground by the Romanian border, Platon directed the funds to provide refugees supplies and to help them pay for transportation to other countries, including Germany, France, or Great Britain. She also began working with a non-profit organization working in Romania to assist people with disabilities who have crossed the country’s border.
Since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, an estimated 5 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries and another 7 million are internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Platon and Archibald realized they could help a greater number of people if they combined their efforts.
“We joined forces and expanded the scope of the mission,” said Archibald, who recently launched PinkBridge, a home healthcare delivery startup.
Together, the pair have helped more than 300 people receive food, accommodations, transportation, and medical supplies. They were soon joined by Bart McDonough, Platon’s classmate in the executive MBA program.
“I’m here to help Ali and Ella in any way I can, and to raise awareness within our program about their efforts,” said McDonough, the chief executive of Agio, a company based in New York City that provides IT management and cybersecurity services to financial businesses.
Sebastian Archibald, a member of Ella’s family who is also part of the team, has sent humanitarian aid to the Polish-Ukrainian border and provided vehicles to transport refugees from eastern Ukraine, Ella explained. Sebastian, an entrepreneur based in New York City, proposed the group go to Krakow, Poland and help refugees directly.
The four of them will travel to Krakow on April 30 to bring cash and supplies to refugees, learn about the kinds of assistance most needed, and connect with aid organizations. The weeklong trip is self-funded, but they are accepting donations to support the refugees. People can contribute online.
“This is a quick, targeted trip to bring relief to people at the Polish-Ukrainian border,” Archibald said. “People’s donations will have a direct impact. All of the money we raise will go to buying supplies for the refugees.”
Additionally, the team has launched ThePathForward.help, a digital platform that matches volunteers from the Yale community with refugees searching for jobs in the places where they have settled. The volunteers can provide career development and business advice, and help refugees draft resumes, submit employment applications, and prepare for job interviews.
“Aside from cash and supplies, the refugees need to rebuild their lives in new countries,” said Platon, who moved to the United States from Romania in 2017 and works as a mergers and acquisitions consulting manager at the Seattle-based consulting firm Moss Adams. “They need jobs. The digital platform provides members of the Yale community a way to share their knowledge with refugees and help them get back on their feet.”
The platform was created in collaboration with Nima Software, a Romania-based firm where Platon’s good friend, Stefan Matei, is a founder and owner. McDonough and Kelsey Overby, a classmate in the executive MBA program, assisted with the project. Volunteers and refugees communicate through a messaging function. The platform can translate nine languages, including English, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and Romanian.
“People are signing up,” Platon said. “The platform is beginning to take off.”
The team is grateful for the SOM community’s generous support.
“The mission at SOM is educating leaders for business and society,” McDonough said. “We’re not myopically focused on business returns; we truly want to help improve society. When we see a problem, we try to fix it. Ella and Ali’s efforts to help Ukrainian refugees are an example of that. It’s a remarkable community. Everyone wants to help.”