European angel investors have bussed more than 7,500 Ukrainians to safety

Brooks Newmark, an angel investor in the U.K. and former senior partner at Apollo Global Management, was in Kharkiv, Ukraine, yesterday—where he has been trying to evacuate approximately 180 disabled children and their caregivers to safety.

“In a quiet garden listening to bombs dropping in the distance,” he told me via email, shortly before our second call.

The original plan was to move children out of two care centers: One is in Shevchenkove, but that area has fallen under Russian control and is no longer accessible. The second care facility is located some five kilometers outside of the Kharkiv city center. Dozens of the children are bedridden, and would need to be moved carefully via ambulances and small vehicles. It’s an evolving situtation, and they may not be able to move the children at all. Two days ago, Newmark had planned to transport the children to Kyiv—but due to medical concerns in case they needed to be moved a second time, Newmark and others are trying to find a new place further West.

“We should know—I’m hoping in the next 24 to 36 hours—that we’ve got somewhere to take the kids,” Newmark told me late yesterday evening.

This evacuation project is one of several that two European angel investors—Raitis Bullits, an investor and entrepreneur born in Latvia, and Newmark—have taken on since the war broke out at the end of February. With the financial backing of members of Club Changer, a Riga, Latvia-based community of 200 angel investors from 19 European countries, Bullits and Newmark have orchestrated the relocation of more than 7,500 women and children to safety via buses—more than 4,000 from Vinnica to Krakovec; more than 300 from Harkiv and Dnipro to Lviv; and more than 3,000 from Poland to other European countries, according to the club’s latest reported figures. Approximately 274 of the civilians were moved just last week. 

Brooks Newmark (left) and Raitis Bullits in Tomaszow Lubelski on the Polish border with one of the buses.
Brooks Newmark (left) and Raitis Bullits in Tomaszow Lubelski on the Polish border with one of the buses.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

The initiative began on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Bullits, who works in transportation and logistics organizing transportation of tourist groups through the French Alps, started a 15-hour trek to the border to help transport people shortly after he heard about the invasion, he says, and called up Arkadijs Steimans, the co-founder of Club Changer, to see if the club wanted to help. At the time, Newmark, a new member, was in Rwanda doing research for a doctorate at Oxford University. After a quick stop in London to pick up warmer clothes, he joined Bullits at the Polish border. The Club Changer group has raised more than 300,000 euros—around $316,500—to fund their efforts, from members and other contributors. including from its Russia-born investor members.

Refugees queuing for buses at a refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

“This is the least I could do,” says Konstantin Siniushin, a Russian venture capitalist at Untitled Ventures and a Club Changer member in Latvia. He spoke with me through interpretation from Mary Glazkova, Untitled’s communications representative. Siniushin said he is terribly ashamed of Russian President Vladimir Putin and what he has done to the Ukrainian people. 

Russian troops have repeatedly targeted civilians in Ukraine, and women have been instructed to lie low to avoid being raped by soldiers. In Bucha alone, which Russian troops occupied for more than six weeks, 412 bodies were found—80% of which contained bullet wounds, according to the Kyiv Independent. Some civilians were reportedly moved to other villages, where they were tortured.

When Bullits and Newmark started the evacuation project, there was a buildup of Ukrainian civilians at the Polish border, which is where they got started. 

“We were one of the first who brought buses to bring people to Europe,” Bullits says, noting that Luxembourg was the initial country to accept people. Later, they started bussing women and children to Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, and Riga. 

Refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski from where Bullits and Newmark initially transported refugees to Luxembourg, Paris, Berlin, and Riga.
Refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski from where Bullits and Newmark initially transported refugees to Luxembourg, Paris, Berlin, and Riga.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

As Russia attempted to take the capital, train lines stopped functioning properly between Lviv and Kyiv, so they moved the buses—about three at the time—deeper into the country to assist. “Thank God these people are taking this risk and working with us,” Bullits says of the two bus companies they work with, who gave them the go-ahead to move the buses into Ukraine. Later, Bullits and Newmark would move the buses further South and East, based on transportation needs within the country.

“There were a number of soldiers who were there saying goodbye to their wives and daughters, and they had tears in their eyes, thanking us for taking their wives and children away,” Newmark says when they were moving people out of Vinnytsia, noting that many of the civilians were reluctant to leave.

One of the children on a bus in Vinnytsia
One of the children on a bus in Vinnytsia
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

“It’s a real problem for us to persuade people to come to our buses to go for free, even to Europe,” Bullits adds. Newmak later said that some civilians are fearful they will be secretly moved into Russia.

Club Changer founder Steimans is insistent that this is the kind of work angel investors are meant to be doing. 

“Why people invest in startups—it’s not just money, but it’s a social responsibility and opportunity to make the world a better place,” he says, noting that their work in this crisis and war, where lives are at stake, works the same way. “This cruelty of what we see in Ukraine—it’s a disaster. The question is what we as a group of angel investors can do to help.”

The answer is in supporting Ukraine, he says. Club Changer has begun to put together a list of startups or projects seeking funding right now, including visual effects company Zibra AI and venture studio Pawa, and it continues to raise money for its efforts to move women and children to safety within and outside of the country. It is currently raising funds to support the ongoing rescue mission from Kharkiv and Odessa (People who wish to donate can fill out an application form on the Club Changer website). Much of the work for angel investors will still lie ahead, Steimans says, in rebuilding the country.

“Once Ukraine gets to the other side of this war, which hopefully will be sooner than later, they will want to rebuild their country,” Newmark says. “A country is made up of lots and lots of entrepreneurs and businesses, and it’s going to be important that if we want to help rebuild a country, that there are groups such as ours that are in there—helping these entrepreneurs, investing in their businesses, so Ukraine can get back on its feet as quickly as possible.”

For Steimans, moments like these are where angels show their commitment: “Now is a good test. Are you an angel? Or are you just called an angel?” 

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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