Pradeep Goel, a US citizen and founder of the medical IT company Solve.Care Foundation, told UNIAN why he did not leave Ukraine at the start of the war and how he is helping Ukrainian families during these difficult times by building a network of shelters in the west.
Even before the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, feeling the menacing atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, embassies, offices of large international companies, a number of Ukrainian businessmen, and even politicians hastily left the borders of Ukraine. However, not everyone left. Some expats who have built their lives and careers in Ukraine for many years and managed to fall in love with our country and its people, did not want to run away – instead, they made every effort to help Ukrainians overcome these difficult times and make a significant contribution to our common future victory.
One such person is Pradeep Goel, a US citizen who built a business and started living in Ukraine in 1998 and is the founder of the medical IT company Solve.Care Foundation. In an interview with UNIAN, he told us why he did not even consider returning home at the beginning of the war, how he helps Ukrainians by building a network of shelters in the west of the country, efforts in transporting humanitarian goods, and what inspires him most in this work.
Why did you decide to stay in Ukraine with the start of the war, despite the US government’s persistent recommendations to all US citizens to leave the country immediately?
Ukraine is in my heart, so I didn’t even consider any other option but to stay when the country needs my help. I think I just wouldn’t forgive myself if I ran away to safety and left behind my friends, co-workers, acquaintances.
And you know, even if I didn’t have such warm feelings for Ukraine, I still wouldn’t be able to leave, shutting my eyes to such clear suffering. As a person, as a professional, I just couldn’t leave.
I started working in Ukraine in 1998, watching its development from the post-Soviet state, and I am proud of the achievements of Ukrainians. Before the war, Kyiv was already better than Berlin. This is a European city, a European state, a European mindset. And we cannot allow all this to be destroyed by anger, hatred, or greed.
Whatever the motives for this war, if everyone leaves, the nation will be lost. I stayed here because it’s right.
How do you help Ukrainians now?
I had a very clear understanding of what we could do to immediately help Ukrainian families affected by the war.
First, people fleeing all this horror must have a place to stay, a place where they will not feel like refugees in their own country, a place where they will be comfortable and safe. Where they can stay for a day or a week, rest, gather strength and thoughts, and decide for themselves – what will be their next steps. I wanted to create a place where people would feel like they were with friends.
My team and I came to Truskavets and decided to help the local authorities, as without their participation it would have been impossible, and converted the schools into shelters that had enough space. We have equipped them with beds, mattresses, pillows, and all kinds of equipment necessary for people to be comfortable. There are books, toys for kids, coloring books. Of course, there is food and medicine too.
First, we went to the mayor of Truskavets and asked them to allocate us the premises of one school. He didn’t have a clear idea of what we were going to do at first, but he agreed to give us a try. And within two days we turned it into a shelter. The school principal was very involved in the process, many of the wonderful students helped us. Very quickly we installed 50 beds, and the room was filled in just one day!
The mayor then praised our idea and asked if we could do more. They gave us another school where we worked with another principal and installed 150 beds in a week. And this shelter also filled up.
And that’s where it started. To date, we have created 9 shelters for 1,100 beds, and are currently working on another. They are located in Truskavets, Boryslav and Drohobych.
Each shelter has kitchens, we have repaired showers, heating systems, installed washing machines for clothes, fixed lightings. In one of the schools, there showers were installed, but they were more than 20 years old and didn’t work, so we replaced the pipes, installed boilers and put everything in order.
When people come to these places, they don’t feel like they’ve settled in refugee camps, they really are among friends. And here they can choose for themselves the country to which they would like to go to if they want – Poland, Slovakia, Romania – from here you can quickly reach all borders.
We would like to take the initiative to cover the whole of south-western Ukraine and, in cooperation with local officials, to establish a chain of shelters where people can stay.
And, importantly, we do not manage these shelters. We set them up, and then the principals, teachers and students of these schools get actively involved in the process.
Do you do it at your own expense or does the state help you share the costs?
We started doing everything ourselves. We did not ask the local authorities for money and did not give any money to the mayors. We just worked together, and I’m very grateful to them for that. They involved volunteers in the process, provided buildings for conversion, and arranged transportation from the station to the Care Shelter. And we invested money.
When we worked on the first shelter, we did it together with the staff of my IT company, Solve.Care Foundation: we have a large office, which moved from Kyiv to Truskavets at the beginning of the war. When we already had two shelters, my contacts in Washington, Los Angeles and London also wanted to join and help, and we started receiving funds from a wide network of business partners, friends, family and even neighbors who had already been involved for repairs on next shelter. Then even more people started joining. We have even created a special page on the company’s website, where anyone can contribute to the operations of the shelters.
But we have a rule: every dollar we receive from donors goes exclusively to shelter equipment, not to pay salaries or other administrative expenses of our company. We do not need borrowed funds for our own needs. We spend every penny received on food, medicine, mattresses, pillows, etc.
This allows people who want to join our work financially to see immediate results. We are not a charity, but simply an IT company with an important social project, and we want to do everything we can to help people, without a drop of bureaucracy. Thanks to this, everything happens very quickly and very efficiently.
Did you have any problems communicating with local officials? After all, volunteers often complain that the government can put sticks in the wheels, try to bureaucratize processes and, in some cases, even profit from the good intentions of others.
The people I met really wanted to join in the efforts, and without them it would have been impossible.
To be honest, when we first started this project, we expected that we could face corruption and the desire of people to benefit from it, but in the end, such problems did not arise. From the very beginning, I made it clear: “We are here to support Ukraine. If you tell us to stop, we will stop immediately. If you say we are doing something wrong, we will leave immediately. If you do not want us to build shelters in your city, we will find another city. We are not some big bosses out there who have come to dictate their terms and tell them how to live. And we are not going to go to the polls.” And as soon as the local authorities realized that we were here to help and not for any personal gain, our conversations became quite productive, and cooperation was effective.
But from the very beginning certain nuances threatened to arise.
What are the nuances?
As soon as we finished work on the first shelter, and it immediately filled up, one day I was there and talking to people who came, and a woman approached me. I didn’t know then that she was a journalist. She started asking me who I was, what I was doing, found out how we converted this room, and so she did a little interview with me. The next day, I learned that she had written an article in a local newspaper about Solve.Care. It turned out that the journalist was immediately called by the local administration (she did not say who) and was asked to remove the article because they did not want to mention us, but she refused. We never came in contact with her again, and there were no more stories on the shelters anymore.
In general, during the three months of our work in the Lviv region, our relations with local authorities have been constantly improving. During all this time, many international companies and charitable organizations came to western Ukraine, which allegedly wanted to do something, to help in some way, but they did not do anything significant. They promised a lot, but it never came to fruition. And when we arrived, we didn’t make any promises that we couldn’t keep, we just started working. And we continue to work. This is our position that impresses the local authorities, they have no claims against us, and we have no claims against them.
What do you plan to do next? Will you start new projects?
We are now changing our strategy – moving from creating shelters where people can stay for a few days to places for long-term residence. Our tenth shelter, which we are currently working on, will be just that.
We will provide each family with a separate room where they can live. I’m even considering building separate small houses for people. In this way, people who have lost their homes could gain new housing and start a new life. I recently came to Washington to implement this project. I want to know if I can get funding. Let’s see, it will take some time.
If we can start by building at least 100 new permanent residences, it will be good. With this experience we will learn, we will be able to do 200, then 500, and thus, gradually, we will do more.
Does your company deliver humanitarian aid to Ukrainians?
So, first of all, we deliver medicine. We work with an insulin manufacturer in India to provide hospitals throughout Ukraine, and our international partners help us raise funds. At the end of March, we delivered more than a thousand vials of insulin (10,000 milliliters) to Ukraine across the border near Truskavets and handed them over to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
We also provide Ukrainian doctors with tourniquets (to stop bleeding).
We constantly deliver food. As of today, more than 41 tons of food have been transported for refugees and low-income families.
Well, and, of course, we import from abroad all the accessories needed to equip our shelters: beds, mattresses, pillows and more.
Did you have any problems with the delivery of goods across the border?
It is clear that the main load of humanitarian aid passes through certain parts of the state border in the Lviv region, and I understood from the very beginning that if someone wants to do even more damage to Ukraine, he will try to hinder the work of these corridors. Therefore, I did not want to use them, but built my own route, using another border crossing point, and the mayor of Truskavets helped me a lot. This corridor, of course, is much smaller, we need no more than 1-2 trucks a day, and it runs through the countryside in the south of the region.
The mayor immediately warned the local border guards that our company transports food, medicine, mattresses from Poland, and all this cargo is intended for the equipment of shelters and humanitarian aid. That is why we have not had any serious problems at the border so far.
We saw small attempts at corruption, but immediately stopped them: we are not corrupt ourselves, we do not profit from the war, and we do not allow others to do so.
Hundreds of Ukrainians are currently living in your shelter. Maybe you could tell some particularly touching stories?
There are a lot of really horrible stories that we have heard from people who have been forced to flee the war with barely anything.
But personally, I am most touched by the children. Many injured, shocked children stay in our shelters. One girl I spoke to was very scared and said, “I miss my school, my friends, I don’t understand why we were attacked, please call them and ask them to stop.” It was especially hard for me to hear that. This child is only 5 or 6 years old, she has no idea what is happening and is eager to return to her previous life. This is the hardest.
I’m afraid that these injuries may stay with the children forever. They will never forget the horrors they had to see fleeing their burning homes. We are losing generations.
But we work a lot with these children, play with them, sing songs, dance. And even if they only spend one night with us, we try to show them that life goes on and it makes sense.
And what I appreciate most is how the children help us. It is a great pleasure to see some of the children who were homeless yesterday start volunteering. The first two days they look upset, they are shy, and on the third day they get down to business.
In every school there are young people who run around with great amounts of energy, enthusiasm, they help to prepare food, unload things from trucks, and you can see how proud they are of doing useful work. I like that we not only give people shelter, but also rebuild the pride of the whole community, the Ukrainian identity. Thanks to work, young people get rid of fears, their lives become meaningful, and they see the result of their efforts.
And thanks to this, there is no atmosphere of despair in the shelters, no one is sitting on the bed in hysteria, everyone takes themselves in hand and tries to help in some way. I do not allow these premises to turn into places of death – these are places where life reigns.
How many people live in your shelters now?
Every night is different. People come and go. On average, we have about 850 people a day – with children, pets and more.
How would you describe the atmosphere that now prevails in the Lviv region?
When we first arrived in Truskavets, more than a month ago, shortly before the war, this region was very sleepy, very quiet. And slowly, gradually the mood changed – first to surprise, then to shock, then people wanted to do something. And now the whole region is very active. A lot of people joined the territorial defence, a lot of volunteers. And the same Truskavets turned from a resort into a city preparing for war.
What do you think about Ukrainians now? How do you think our nation is behaving during this stressful period?
I am proud of Ukrainians. If I can call myself a Ukrainian, given that I have lived in this country for more than ten years, I am proud of how we resist this aggression, hatred, madness. I’m proud that people don’t give up.
Compared to people who fight at the front, it seems to me that I do very little. When I saw what was really going on in Bucha and other cities, I was overwhelmed with indescribable rage, I didn’t even know if I was actually doing the right thing, and whether it would be better to go to the front with weapons. I am extremely grateful to all the men and women who are risking their lives today to save the nation. Without them, we would not have a chance to do anything.
It is so sad that so many people and children were killed. It is a pity to see what has been done to our cities. But I am sure that we will rebuild all the buildings. The most valuable thing is the people, and, importantly, in this hell, a new Ukrainian identity was born, based on national pride, and it will be enough for several generations.
Therefore, I hope that when the war is over, the true national spirit will be revived – the pride of being a Ukrainian. And although I am not Ukrainian by birth and citizenship, I feel my belonging to this nation in my heart.
Now the country is fighting for the right to a peaceful existence, the right to live without tyranny. Now Ukraine is showing the whole world what the true price of democracy is. And I am proud to be a part of this struggle.
To read the original article (in Ukrainian) and see more images please go to: https://www.unian.ua/society/kerivnik-it-kompaniji-amerikanec-pradip-goel-zaraz-ukrajina-pokazuye-usomu-svitovi-yakoyu-ye-spravzhnya-cina-demokratiji-novini-ukrajini-11848890.html