As people all across Europe unite to help the victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our long-time client and friend Open Social, an open source community building platform, couldn’t stand aside. For Taco Potze, CEO at Open Social, the matter was personal: a large part of the company’s tech team is made up of LS engineers based in Ukraine. In mere days, he organized an initiative called “Twente voor Oekraïne” in Enschede, Netherlands, which at the time of writing this post has already sent 18 trucks worth of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and the total count of its volunteers is nearing 250.
We talked to Kristina Marina, a market development representative at Open Social and, for the last 22 days, head of logistics at Twente voor Oekraïne, to find out more about how the initiative started and what their work looks like at the moment. Here’s what she shared:
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How Twente voor Oekraïne started
None of the Open Social employees had any previous experience with organizing fundraisers or humanitarian initiatives. There was a lot of confusion at the beginning. All Taco knew was that he had friends in Ukraine, our Ukrainian coworkers had families in Ukraine, and we had to help. Within three days after the Russian invasion started, he arranged a warehouse for the collection of goods and asked his development team to build a website that explained what the point of the initiative was and what items were required in Ukraine. There was also a link for donations. That was pretty much it.
Taco and I arrived in Enschede, where Open Social was founded and still has an office, in the evening of Sunday, February 27. The next morning, we had our first meeting with the Open Social team. Having split responsibilities between different team members, we immediately got to work.
The local newspaper and TV reporters, who Taco had invited beforehand, arrived to cover what we were doing and help spread the word about the initiative faster. Then, we waited. We didn't know if anyone would come. We expected to load one truck max.
Until about 3 pm, everything was quiet. After 3 pm, things started to develop really fast: people were pouring in with tons of aid — warm clothes, military apparel, communication equipment, canned food, pet food, sleeping mats and bags, mattresses, medicine, and much more. As a result, the first truck was ready to set off on Tuesday.
Delivering the goods
Speaking of trucks, our very first truck driver — a hero who wanted to get back to Ukraine and help his family escape the war — deserves a special place in this story.
Two days before we all first gathered in Enschede, Taco's friend Ivo had mentioned that he’d met a Ukrainian trucker at a parking lot. Ivo was eager to find a way to help him: the driver was from Kharkiv (a city in the east of Ukraine that is being constantly attacked by the Russian military and is now heavily damaged), where his whole family — a wife, two kids, and a brother suffering from epilepsy and running short on meds — were stuck at the time. He readily agreed to take our cargo to Lviv (a city in the west of Ukraine and home to the LS headquarters) with the hopes of finding a way to reunite with his family there. In addition to the humanitarian aid, he was also taking two months worth of epilepsy treatment for his brother, which Taco had miraculously obtained from his doctor.
The driver successfully made it to Lviv, where LS volunteers received the aid and forwarded it to the Charitable Foundation of Serhiy Prytula, an organization with a great track record of helping the Ukrainian defense and civilians in need. He got in touch with us a few days ago to share some great news: his family had managed to flee Kharkiv and arrive in Lviv on an evacuation train by the time he got there. Now, they’re all trying to build a new life in a new place, together.
Our first driver, of course, was not the only Ukrainian trucker who happened to be in the Netherlands when Russia started the war. He shared our contact information across his network, and after that finding more trucks has not been a problem. We have collected 75,000 euros in donations, so we have been able to easily cover food, fuel, and any other journey-related expenses for the truckers.
Help from all sorts of places
While being part of Twente voor Oekraïne, I’ve been reassured time and again that people’s capacity to care has no limits. Help has materialized seemingly out of nowhere.
On the third day of our operation, a woman came to our collection point and said she knew someone at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Netherlands who might be able to help us with some of the shipping paperwork. We got in touch with the embassy immediately and have been enjoying their support ever since. And it’s not just paperwork: three out of the 12 trucks we have sent to Ukraine were organized by them.
I’ve also met a man who helped secure three houses for Ukrainian families fleeing the war. I’ve met a woman who donated a huge number of meal replacement drinks and was also looking to adopt three Ukrainian children who have lost their parents.
People bring us goods with tears in their eyes, they wear the colors of the Ukrainian flag, they join protests. The community that has grown out of our initiative feels like a family. We’ve been working for 22 days in a row, 14 hours a day, updating itineraries, engaging partners, collecting and packing goods, coordinating truckers, and spreading the word about Twente voor Oekraïne, but this is all nothing compared to what Ukrainians are going through. We hope our efforts will make the lives of those suffering from this terrible tragedy at least a little better.
Work with Ukraine
We’re deeply grateful to Taco, Kristina, and the rest of the Twente voor Oekraïne team for being so incredibly supportive. We also thank all our other clients and partners who continue and intensify our cooperation because they understand that in this time of war, keeping the Ukrainian economy running is essential.
If you’re looking for a tech partner who can build your IoT, Digital, or AI product, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our employees are safe, our operations are intact, and we’re all ready to apply our expertise to help your business grow.