ADA, Mich. (WOOD) — A small software and app developer from West Michigan is working to support soldiers on the frontlines in Ukraine.
Menklab was founded in 2013 by Justin Menkveld. The digital agency helps other organizations improve their business. They specialize in software development and data migration.
The agency says of the nearly 40 total employees it has on staff, more than half work out of Ukraine.
“Ukraine is really a tech hub. They’ve been growing that skill set for years and years. I started with them in 2018. We have folks in Dnipro, in Odessa and Kyiv and all over,” said Menkveld.
After the start of the war in Ukraine in February, the team at Menklab say they began supporting their abroad team members. They say they were able to help several employees move to Europe and the U.S.
“With the onset of the war and just us being able to navigate, that was certainly day to day. How are our folks doing? Are they safe? What do they need?” said Aaron Owens, the vice president of sales.
Owens says as time passed, discourse here in the U.S. about the war seemed to dwindle.
“Six months now have gone by and a lot of folks have forgotten about this happening,” said Owens.
After one of their Ukrainian team members asked how the company could help, they launched the Saving Lives Campaign to send medical kits, bandages and clothing to people in need. To donate, people log onto the company’s website to click direct links to purchasing items on the need list, which is ever changing based on the needs on the ground. From there, the items are shipped to the Menklab office in Ada and then to Ukraine where they’re given to soldiers who need the supplies.
“For a while, we had med kits as the top item and then that transitioned into bandages and quick clot. One of the new things that (our team member) just brought to us is winter is coming and we need socks so our soldiers don’t lose their toes to frost bite,” said Menkveld.
The software company’s Ukrainian employees who live in country say the supplies are the difference between life and death.
“When you look at the streets it mostly hasn’t changed but when you try to look in details, every place, every shop, every coffee shop has an instruction like, ‘The next bomb shelter is around the corner,'” said Dima Kulykov, who works out of Dnipro. “It makes us really nervous when something loud screeches next to you. It’s terrible.”
Kulykov is one of the team members who helps get the donated items into the hands of people on the frontlines.
“The med kits are just one thing that Menklab is providing. We’ve been buying drugs, drones, night vision, anything we can buy legally we are buying,” said Kulykov.
Dnipro, the city where some of the team members work, is about two hours away from the frontlines. Even still, team members say they’ve been able to feel the vibrations as cities closer to Russian-occupied territories are shelled.
“I had a case when I was walking outside with my dog and I didn’t have a chance to hide very quickly and it was the time when Russia was trying to strike some of our bridges. I felt in my body this strike. I can’t tell you even how it feels,” said Helen Kyianovska, the company’s managing director in Ukraine. “When you are hiding, it’s one thing. When you are walking somewhere it’s absolutely another thing.”
In order to raise awareness, the company is working with actors like Robert Patrick, who starred in “Terminator 2.” They’re also working with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to funnel monetary donations.
“To whom much is given, much is expected and this was an obvious way to step into that. Kind of to that point, stepping into this was really easy because it’s our people over there and our people are doing good work. So now we’re supporting them and the good work that they’re doing,” said Menkveld of his team members’ humanitarian efforts.
So far, the campaign has resulted in about a half ton worth of medical supplies, around 20,000 pairs of socks and enough monetary donations to help buy three emergency vehicles in conjunction with TAPS. Menklab says the ambulance vehicles can help up to 10 soldiers at a time and include NICU burn units.
They say Americans supporting Ukrainians is just as important now as it was before, if not more.
“Our freedom is important. Our life is important. Our kids are important and our kids are dying every day, still dying every day and we won’t be able to live without our freedom here,” said Kyianovska.
If you’d like to help in their effort, visit the Menklab website to view the needs list and information on where to send the donated items. Menklab says once they get the donated supplies in hand, they can get them to Ukraine in as little as 10 days.