Yonatan Levin, Android GDE, uses his developer superpowers to help refugees in Ukraine
Posted by Kevin Hernandez, Developer Relations Community Manager
Initial reaction to the news
At the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Android GDE Yonatan Levin was confused. He started his day just like any other – with exercise and a book – but on the day of the invasion, his phone was bombarded with text messages from friends, relatives, and coworkers. Normally a hard worker, Yonatan tried to go into work but as he sat at his desk, he had a distracting thought in the front of his mind. He recounts, “I was staring at my monitor and in my head, all I kept repeating was, ‘I have to do something, I have to do something.’” He messaged coworkers about the situation to see what they could do and eventually, the leadership of his or gave Yonatan their blessing to go to the Ukraine / Poland border and help the refugees. Yonatan and his friends immediately packed their bags and set out to Poland.
Arriving at the border
Yonatan and his friends landed and immediately drove 6 hours from Warsaw to the border where camps organized by volunteers were located. When he got there, he and his friends felt immediate shock. They saw thousands of refugees crammed in a small space with their whole lives packed into bags. His feeling of shock quickly wore off as he saw the unorganized volunteer efforts; he started focusing on ways to support relief efforts as a developer.
Yonatan noticed that there were volunteers arriving from all over Europe to offer free rides, accommodation, or even work opportunities. However, there was little technology being used – volunteers held up signs with locations they were driving to. The current matchmaking process was inefficient, so he decided to build an Android app and a solution on top of monday.com (an all-in-one work management software) where volunteers with cars and refugees registered online and were matched based on where they needed to go.
Using technology to turn chaos into order
Just like any new idea or a startup, Yonatan’s group went through iterations before they had a solution that truly worked. To replace the cardboard signs that volunteer drivers held up, Yonatan and his friends bought laptops and a TV so they could display a list of drivers and their destinations. Then, they matched refugees with volunteer drivers – but this proved to be a manual solution. They offered this solution to other camps but when they came back to the original site, they found that the laptops were closed and volunteers reverted back to the old system of holding up cardboard signs. This was a sign to go back to the drawing board to create something that would stick.
While the laptops and TV screens helped, there were still large queues at the camps as busloads of refugees came in every few minutes. With monday.com, they created a registration form for the refugees and a completely new process. Once refugees arrived at the camp, they received a wristband with a QR code, registered their names, and selected what they needed: food, sim cards, a bed, a ride to a different city, etc. This new process took just 10 minutes and they built a dashboard to keep track of data in order to dedicate resources where they were needed. For example, if the most in-demand destination was Warsaw, volunteers knew to recruit more drivers heading there.
Yonatan and his friends were able to pull off the impressive feat of developing an entire Android app with 3rd party APIs integrations for driver verification and a core database with monday.com in just one night. “To build an app in one night is amazing. You can not easily do this with other platforms,” he observed. This was a turning point for the camps and volunteer organizers embraced this system.
Reflecting a year later
Yonatan hopes to inspire others through his experience. “This is something that happened very close to me. If I did something about it, I hope others know they can help too,” he urges. He expanded the system to other camps and remembers one of the organizers beaming that it was the best software they have ever used. Yonatan and his colleagues used their expertise to help refugees get to safety and he reflects on being a developer by saying, “It is a power that we developers have – to identify a huge pain and solve it with relatively minimal effort, sometimes in a matter of hours. This is a super power.”
Yonatan’s motto is to help in any way you can. He encourages other developers, “Things happen everywhere, all the time. Do not distance yourself from the struggles of others. Instead, search for ways you can help them.” Due to the changing environment, the app is not being used today but countless refugees were driven to safety thanks to Yonatan’s developer superpowers.
You can find Yonatan on LinkedIn or Twitter.
The Google Developer Experts (GDE) program is a global network of highly experienced technology experts, influencers, and thought leaders who actively support developers, companies, and tech communities by speaking at events and publishing content.