Saving human lives is the priority

Entrepreneur Alex Podopryhora EMBA2009 is used to overcoming challenges. Now his focus is getting medical supplies into Ukraine


When the invasion began this February, the shock lasted for about 24 hours, then everyone started to do something. Our family friend, who is 76, joined the territorial army and he is patrolling the city in Mykolaiv with a gun. The whole country is doing something.

My family is Ukrainian – I am from Kherson, which is now under Russian occupation – but my wife is Russian and half of her family is in Russia. My wife spent a week trying to explain what was really happening to her family but they wouldn’t listen, because the amount of propaganda and brainwashing that goes on in Russia is unbelievable.

I decided to dedicate all my time to helping paramedics on the frontlines. It helps me to get through this difficult period because I’m busy all the time. I’m about to go to Poland for the eighth time to deliver supplies to paramedics. All my time is spent coordinating various people – trying to source supplies and equipment, taking them out to Poland and delivering them, then coming back and doing it all over again.

Saving human lives is the priority. My life is not measured in hours or pounds now – it’s measured in CELOX bandages and how quickly I can get them to the frontline.

Before the war

LBS is one of those places where you can meet really extraordinary people, with exceptional qualities. I met some unbelievable people among my class peers and faculty. I would say 90% of people who came to LBS from Eastern Europe when I did had to have some entrepreneurial attributes. In order to come to LBS in the first place, you really needed to be a self-starter.

I first came to London after finishing my undergrad degree in software engineering in Ukraine and did a masters in database systems at the University of Westminster. My thesis was on managing data in distributed environments. This was 2002 and back then all the banks and the large financial institutions were extremely interested in that area. The focus on big data and AI came maybe five to 10 years later, so I was in a whole new area right at the beginning. A lot of interesting papers were being published and being part of it was very exciting.

I considered doing a PhD for a couple of weeks, but I am quite risk-averse and I quickly realised I could not support a young family whilst doing a research degree. So I put my studies on hold and got work as a software engineer. I also had a side job, helping my brother set up an IT outsourcing company in Ukraine.

I knew I was very one-sided – I was all about mathematics and coding, and lacked social skills for business. I realised that doing an EMBA could really benefit my personal and professional development. I really only considered LBS. I liked how the school presented itself – it was very international but at the same time it was very UK-based and I wanted to be associated with it going forward.

Ultimately LBS was not about the degree or even about what I learnt, it was really about the people around me – being part of the story. I was also lucky enough to do a course at Columbia Business School as part of my studies, where one of the professors was a Nobel prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, and this is something that changed my life – I couldn’t believe how approachable these people were and how they were able to explain difficult things in very simple terms.

I finished my EMBA in 2009 and got a job at Banco Santander’s head office in Madrid. I started in a business role and realised I could contribute more in other areas, so I moved to the risk department, looking after the bank’s risk modelling, and from there I went into investment banking. By 2016, the company I’d set up with my brother [e-commerce solutions provider M2E] had started to grow. It coincided with Brexit, which impacted banking to a very high degree. I decided to focus full time on what my brother and I were doing, and I have had no regrets about that choice.

Sourcing and delivering medical supplies

Now every day is the same for me. I find it really hard to sleep, because my parents are in Kherson under Russian occupation and my brother is in Dnipro, which is being heavily bombed, and I have friends, including some who were at LBS, who are fighting on the frontlines.

The war is affecting everyone. We had our own family tragedy after the Russians occupied my home city – my grandmother was already in bad health, then she got really ill. The ambulance could not come because of the curfew the Russians had imposed, so she died. We couldn’t take her body to the cemetery. Eventually, my parents managed to negotiate for the cemetery workers to come and take the body, but the Russian soldiers would not allow people to go to the cemeteries, so the workers had to dig a grave somewhere outside it. When this war is finished, the family will have to go and find the place where she is buried.

In the beginning we were just trying to help with a few medical supplies. Then the fighting got really bad and we started trying to source ambulances, because they are needed 24/7 and it is very difficult to get hold of them. Then we moved from ambulances to sourcing refrigerators for the transportation of dead bodies and body bags.

I have to beg hospitals for supplies and equipment and it is very difficult because people think you are helping the fighting. The vast majority of people who are being killed and injured are civilians who are dying because infrastructure is being targeted. The ambulance crews help everyone; not only soldiers but civilians, even injured Russian soldiers.

How the business community can help

I have 200+ paramedics – some in Kyiv and some in Mariupol, which is experiencing the worst fighting since the Second World War – who are risking their lives every day. We are just trying to get them basic necessities at any cost to help them do their job. It’s about getting as much money as we can to buy those bandages and supplies, because whatever we deliver runs out fast.

The best way business or anyone can help is to spread the word. My best donors are corporate, because £500 does make a difference, but it is a small one. A box of 1,000 bandages costs about £40,000, excluding VAT. We really appreciate any donation, but only bigger companies can make a real difference.

For now, all I know is that tomorrow we will collect 500 body bags, 500 bandages, some medical supplies and refrigerators, and one large 4 x 4 vehicle, then drive to Poland, where we will hand them to our volunteers, then return and reset. We will begin the same process all over again as soon as we are home.

I’m not trying to think about scaling up and building warehouses and giving multibillions of aid to refugees. My task is simple – if I support paramedics, I can save hundreds of lives. That is more than enough for today.  

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