While all of us are familiar with nonprofits doing great work, it isn’t often that we can witness a nonprofit’s first steps and earliest accomplishments. This is the story of how a group of friends scattered across the US, Ukraine, Hungary, and other Eastern European countries have inadvertently launched a highly responsive humanitarian aid nonprofit — in just a few short months.

Meet team Zhyty Khochu: Yelizaveta Rubchynska, Weyland Joyner, Sam Finkleman, Yuliah Kurbatova, Philip Rogers, Volodymyr Lipinskyi, Mariia Volkova, Anastasiia Zagrabskaia plus friends and partners across Eastern Europe. Many of them hadn’t even met until the day they found their lives upturned by war. Thrown together by circumstance, or perhaps serendipity, this passionate team has run towards danger, together, towards the urgent needs of people fighting for their lives and their country.

It started as an impromptu effort to help bring refugees across the border into Hungary. Yuliah, from St. Petersburg, arrived in Budapest just days before the war began. In town for her studies and work, she connected with her friend, Yelizaveta, a medical student from Kyiv. Their plan was to rent a flat for a few days and spend time with each other and other friends in the city, before returning to their homes. But the war began and all plans fell apart.

Scrambling for a place to stay, their Budapest friends put them in touch with Weyland, a former New Yorker and graduate of Middlebury college, who had been living in Budapest since 2019. His old school friend Sam, also a Middlebury alum had been visiting as part of his many travels in pursuit of his as Ph.D. in Russian & Eastern European studies from University of Pennsylvania. Yelizaveta, Yuliah, Weyland and Sam, all safely situated at Weylands home in Budapest, began to share their stories. Yelizaveta was focused on getting home to Kyiv, to help her family, and provide medical assistance where she could. Weyland was trying to figure out how to help his girlfriend and her family who needed supplies and to get to safety. Yuliah recognized they would fare better by working together, sharing their skills and knowledge. They pooled their resources, contacted their networks and set out on what would become their first unofficial humanitarian aid mission to drop off supplies in Kyiv and return with refugees. What was clear to them afterwards is that there would need to be many more missions. And the funds to fuel them.

They put out the call to their collective networks. Alumni groups from college and high school, colleagues, work and social media contacts all answered. And in a very short time, their personal Venmo accounts had been flooded with many thousands of dollars in donations. It was clear what they needed to do. This is how Zhyty Khochu began. The name, translated from a Ukrainian poem, means “I want to live”. This is the cornerstone of Zhyty’s mission: to save Ukrainian lives.

Just months from that first hectic mission, the team’s efforts have rapidly transformed into those of a well-organized nonprofit, dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to civilian hospitals and territorial defense units across hot spots in Ukraine. With lightening speed, this powerful team has assessed needs, built a fundraising network, developed relationships with US and European suppliers, civilian hospitals, territorial defense units and grassroots Ukrainian organizations to purchase and transport lifesaving supplies.⁠ While they await their IRS approval, Givio Charitable Foundation has had the honor of being their fiscal sponsor, and in the process, all of us at team Givio get the opportunity to witness a true example of compassion, heroism, and hope.

You can help team Zhyty save lives by making a donation, today.

You can hear more about team Zhyty’s story and hear some of their founders’ original, beautiful music, by checking out their podcast video.