The 1K project has raised $3.5 million to help Ukrainians

Alex Iskold

Thanks to: Alex Iskold

Just over a month after the Russian attack on Ukraine, Alex Iskold tries to reckon with the realities of his homeland while lends a hand in the best way possible.

Iskold, who immigrated to the US from Ukraine at age 19, is a venture capitalist and director of 2048 Ventures in New York. He is also a tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the 1K Project, a non-profit organization that allows anyone to donate $1,000 directly to a Ukrainian family.

To date, the project has raised more than $3.5 million and helped 3,500 families. But Iskold, now 49, knows the crisis ahead for Ukraine, a country of 44 million, is poised to deepen no matter when the fighting ends.

More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries, more than half of whom have entered Poland, while the Russian army has stormed population centers. Millions of others will certainly not have basic necessities well into the future and will need money for food, medicine, clothing and transport.

“There are many ways you can donate, but when you donate direct aid, you know that one family is better off because you helped them,” Isskold said in an interview.

For a family of three to four people, $1,000 only costs about a month, he said. With more than 70,000 families already waiting for support and more applications coming in every hour, the project needs individual and corporate sponsors to continue contributing.

“This is a strong call to action as businesses can make a significant difference, and we are confident we are the right vessel to deliver the aid,” he said. “Hopefully businesses can stand up and help us reach more families.”

The concept behind the 1K project is simple: a person donates $1,000, which will be sent directly to a Ukrainian family.

‘Coping mechanism’

Iskold launched the 1K project for a different purpose. He and Chrysi Philalithes, a fellow entrepreneur and startup investor, founded it in 2020 to help Ukrainian families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Isskold revived it when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“For me, the 1K project is an outlet, a coping mechanism,” said Iskold, who left Ukraine in the early 1990s to escape anti-Semitic persecution. “I could spend hours on the couch watching television, or I could help in some other way.”

The 1K Project team is made up of more than 50 volunteers, many of whom work 10 hours a week, from across the US as well as Latvia, Ukraine, France and Kazakhstan. The surgery team, responsible for reviewing family applications and responding to sponsors, consists of several high school students and Iskold’s own children. Engineers come from companies like Techstars, Yahoo, Mozilla, Venmo and Citigroup.

“We have the best technical talent I’ve ever seen,” Iskold said. “They move at the speed of light.”

The group needs it because “the technical challenge is enormous,” Iskold said, adding that his experience with distributed systems helped him build out the technology. Meanwhile, the team works together with software such as AirTable, Slack, Notion and Front.

“It’s just this incredible combination of code and people that we use to get the job done,” he said.

To apply for help, families fill out one form. They need a bank card that accepts the local currency to receive assistance. About 40% of the applicants are still in their hometown in Ukraine, 20% are refugees outside the country and 40% are internally displaced.

Once a volunteer reviews an application, that information is passed on to a sponsor, who then forwards the money through Wise, a multi-currency money transfer service. The money is deposited directly into the family’s bank account so that the money is available when they are on the road.

Alex Iskold

Thanks to: Alex Iskold

“We’ve been establishing the system and writing code constantly as we fund families,” Iskold said. “We are almost 100% automated where possible, including checking applications for basic errors. Still, support emails and SMS for families and sponsors keep us busy.”

Crypto is a popular option

Cryptocurrencies can also be donated. When that happens, they are sold for cash, which is sent to the families with Wise and converted into the Ukrainian currency, hryvnia. A partner organization called Open Collective accepts donations over $1,000, whether it be cash, stock or cryptocurrency.

People have taken advantage of the crypto option in creative ways, Iskold said. Meta Angels, a community of people working on digital art in the form of non-replaceable tokens, created a series of unique NFTs and sold nearly $50,000 for the 1K project.

Iskold said there is a widespread sense of responsibility in helping Ukrainians. Many are watching the war unfold and looking for ways to help.

Ukrainian officials have pushed for a ceasefire and a solution to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Kremlin invasion. During peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Russia claimed it would reduce its attacks on Ukraine, but the armed forces have continued to carry out attacks around the capital Kiev.

Iskold’s efforts can’t keep up with the devastation, but for some families it may be all they have.

“The 1K project is a bridge until affected families can get back on their feet,” he said.

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