Olga Bulygina-Lazebnikova, Charity Networking Officer of the NGO Techiia Foundation, gave an interview to the Authority Magazine. She spoke about humanitarian aid to war victims, Elon Musk's mother, the hospital in Kropyvnytskyi, and meeting with Leonardo Da Vinci.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Hello. Thanks for having me. My life is driven by the desire to do large-scale projects. A few years before moving from Kyiv to Los Angeles, I thought I was already an experienced event manager and came to the famous agency with the concept of a blogging festival. Rarely did anyone do such events in the world back then. I brought recommendation letters from the Kyiv State Administration and the Ministry of Tourism of Ukraine, well-written founding documents with a clear understanding of how everything should be. And I came for financial and organizational support. After all, it was impossible to implement such a project with just a small team we had.
The interlocutor listened to me, praised the idea, and then he said he would give an answer later. A week later, we learned that they decided to implement this project on their own. It was a difficult challenge for me — I seemed to look at my creative path in retrospect.
I am seven years old, explaining to my parents that I want to move to a school near my house. I’m too bored with walking 15 minutes one way every day. I could learn two foreign languages. But hey, I study piano, that’s enough for me. What’s the point in school at all? It’s so boring there.
The next thing I see is me preparing for my first concert as a presenter. I am 19 years old. I’m in music college, but I don’t want to be just a musician. I like to set the mood, communicate with a large number of spectators, hear applause and enjoy the event in general.
Furthermore, I am an adult, organizing my own theater studio. I got my first grant and started working with the director. We put on plays, we study roles. We are invited to perform in other cities. I’m involved in all the processes. I got my second higher education as a sound engineer. Great opportunity to put theory into practice.
Eventually, I see myself organizing PR events for the capital’s designers and restaurant owners. I’m having bloggers for a press lunch. As soon as the Revolution of Dignity breaks out ended, Kyiv gets a new lease of life: restaurants and local stores appear like mushrooms after rain, and everyone wants to show their best. The industry is growing, and more and more guests are coming. We need to look again and again for interesting formats of work that will give users the mood, new concepts of activities, and options for cooperation with the media.
I worked so hard to think through every detail of my own project (blogging festival), got support from local authorities, and planned an event. And now someone influential listened to me, read all the documents, and decided to implement a similar project, but without me in it.
This difficult experience taught me to rely on myself and to be easier on ideas. Even those perfectly described in the documents. The idea alone is worthless. The implemented project — that’s what’s valuable. And the people I have been meeting all this time are even more valuable, as well as the experience gained throughout this time. No money can buy you experience, you should follow this path yourself, even if the path is hard and with many setbacks.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
My work in communications led me to Los Angeles. Shortly before that, I worked as an SMM Lead in the esports media company WePlay Esports, which is now part of the TECHIIA holding. I managed to unite a team that was previously working chaotically, into a single harmonious organism. When it all worked out, my family and I moved to the United States.
Here I started to discover a completely new universe. Although my English was quite poor, I could easily find common ground with the locals. It turned out that Americans are quite eager to help others, even strangers. They are motivated by the opportunity to be useful, to make someone’s life better. These are the kinds of values I also share.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I started wearing more and more things by Ukrainian designers. In one of the parking lots in Los Angeles, a complete stranger noticed my uniquely painted denim jacket. She complimented me and asked where I got this thing from. This thing I bought in Kyiv a year ago and I really wanted to support Ukrainian designers whose showrooms had to be closed due to quarantine restrictions.
This colored denim captivated my soul then and now. So when a stranger realized that I was from Ukraine, she asked how my family is and how she can help. She also insisted on recording her phone number and call if I needed support. It was very touching.
Now, when my friends and acquaintances want to help Ukrainians, I ask them to donate to our or other Ukrainian foundations. The bureaucracy in such organizations is reduced to almost zero, so the money quickly turns into aid — essential equipment for defenders, food for lonely retirees, medicines, transportation of evacuees. It is a very rapid process.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
I grew up in Kropyvnytskyi, a small town of 250,000 residents. A talented pediatric surgeon, with whom the co — owners of TECHIIA met also lives in that city. The doctor was desperately seeking an option to operate in Kropyvnytskyi instead of taking the children to Kyiv. But he did not have the necessary equipment. TECHIIA, as a responsible company, joined and re — equipped the regional hospital where this surgeon works — they purchased innovative equipment for neurosurgery. It was so unexpected for the locals that my childhood friends who live there started telling me how grateful they are. They did not expect anyone to deal with the medical problems of the small town.
At that time, the Techiia Foundation was already operating as a public organization, which became part of the TECHIIA holding and took care of our healthcare and STEM education.
Once the war broke out, the Foundation launched a new direction — “Support for the freedom of Ukraine.” On day one, we gathered our colleagues and friends who have had military and volunteer experience since the occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. These people became the core of the team of buyers and logistics specialists.
At the beginning of April, the assistance provided by NGO Techiia Foundation had already reached $20 million in total. I am really looking forward to this amount being increased so that we could help even more people.
I focus on what I do best — communicate with people. The global #StandWithUkraine initiative is popular in the United States. Los Angeles is home to the esports WePlay Arena L.A., and I have a wide network of influential people in America. So I thought — why not give the opportunity to speak in support of Ukraine?
One of the first videos we recorded within the #StandWithUkraine initiative was the address to the people of Ukraine by Maye Musk. She was far from Los Angeles, so we aired her from our studio at WePlay Arena L.A. Maye mentioned her visit to Kyiv, and how she is proud of her children also supporting Ukraine, that Elon gave Ukraine access to Starlink.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to talk “behind the scenes”, but I hope to meet Maye in person. Maybe even in rebuilt Kyiv.
Roland Emmerich, the director of “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Independence Day”, also agreed immediately, but had to adjust the schedule of his filming. He is very light and sociable — he speaks and acts as he feels. He expressed confidence in the victory of Ukrainians and told about his plans to make a film about Ukraine and our struggle for freedom.
The Ambassador of Belgium to the United States also accepted our invitation and took the time to come to the studio and express his support for our country. We deeply cherish his words.
Later, entrepreneurs who could not stand aside and wanted to express their support for Ukraine joined the project: an IT entrepreneur Andrei Komarovsky, the founder of car-sharing service Ivan Agapchev, the Founding and Managing Partner at Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management Hatem Dhiab, an entrepreneur Anna Sherman, the producer James Gavsie and others.
The #StandWithUkraine project is important. It is designed to support Ukrainians, to give hope, and to know that we are not alone against a powerful foe.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
It’s a bit uncomfortable for me to tell such stories, it seems as if I’m revealing other people’s secrets. As for humanitarian aid to Ukrainians right now, colleagues from Ukraine are constantly texting me about what resources are lacking and what needs to be found. Often these are military items with unique specifications.
In the searching process, I meet volunteers from the United States, we share information about needs and opportunities. People often help because they can’t do otherwise, and I’m grateful to them for that.
I consider the opening of the Eva Correction and Inclusion Center in the Kyiv region to be the greatest pre-war achievement of our Foundation. Children who have overcome cancer are being rehabilitated there. As a rule, their bodies are very exhausted by the complex and long-term treatment.
The center started treating children in the summer of 2021. Rehabilitation of young patients is free of charge, all costs of maintaining the center are covered by the NGO Techiia Foundation. The war did not affect the funding schedule, so specialists kept working. Given safety issues, of course.
I know from my colleagues that the guys from the holding who went to defend our homeland had some worries about their work. Companies often close offices in dangerous areas or even stop their work completely. Our team is working in full force. Those who serve in the Armed Forces and Territorial Defense, volunteer, assist in hospitals and have retained their jobs and salaries. Everyone who needed it received sets of military uniforms and protective gear for themselves and their comrades.
I’m sure we will be able to read about how drones and communications help defenders in their daily work in their memoirs :)
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We all must act as one to overcome this insane disaster. We all must make an arrangement that after the victory in our war against Russia, sanctions will not be dismissed, borders for Russians will be keeping closed, and international companies will not return to their Russians’ offices. Such crimes cannot be forgiven. And this leads us to another important aspect. Every Ukrainian, regardless of location, is deeply traumatized by the war. That’s why I’m asking everyone to understand that each of us experiences this tragedy in our own way. Whatever emotional form it takes, such a reaction is justified and has a right to manifest.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
As for me, the leader is the one who is ready to take full responsibility for the decisions made. The one who acts in the interests of the group of people they represent. It is unacceptable to be concerned only for his/her well-being, and forgetting about current situation of company’s employees or residents of your country.
People in the United States are joking that the country finally has a president that everyone is proud of, and this is the president of Ukraine. I like that he did not make concessions. Maybe this was dictated by little political experience, maybe by his age, and maybe several factors have turned him into a fearless leader who is supported by the whole country. Only a youthful, mature and energetic man can reject all the arguments of influential European politicians in favor of appeasing the aggressor. Anyone who knows history remembers what such a policy led to in the first half of the twentieth century.
Even here in the United States, I can hear the question: why? Are people’s lives less important than territory or influence? In response, I ask: what will you do if a gang of rapists breaks into your home? Will you accept all their demands or will you try to protect yourself and your children? This analogy is understandable to Americans, especially in states where people are allowed to have their weapons.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
There are only two such things. I wish someone would explain to me as a child why it is so important to have a good education and learn different foreign languages. Maybe, in that case, I wouldn’t change my academic school to a regular one next to my house. Now I understand that, and I do not spare time and money to educate my kids.
As I mentioned before, I always seek new knowledge, I want to immerse myself in various fields, to expand the “portfolio” of what I have read, reviewed, done, and tried. A new cognitive experience makes me happy. I want as many people as possible to feel the same way I do in this context. And if you want to skip school or university, maybe you should look for another educational institution.
And the second thing is I would try to convince my parents to have a second child. I would assure them of my support. There are two reasons for this. My parents are now in Ukraine. None of my arguments and proposals persuade them to go abroad. If we had more children in our family, it would be easier for us to take care of the safety and comfort of our parents together.
Another reason is the importance of knowing that you have a loved one. Friends, acquaintances, and partners come and go. A brother or sister is a close person by blood that you have known all your life. Nothing can destroy this connection.
Since I can’t change the situation with having siblings, I can change that for my kids :)
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. : — )
A refugee’s life is different from the trip of a tourist. Tourists know that in a week or two they will go back to their regular life, where everything is predicted, controlled, and balanced. That’s something refugees can’t count on. Even in a developed country like the United States. Therefore, a big part of Ukrainians who have fled to the US because of the war will return home as soon as possible. Others will stay, which is also normal. I am watching the formation of the Ukrainian community. People are very supportive of each other.
This means more Ukrainian projects will emerge soon — with a cultural, technological, scientific, and even entertainment focus. And while these projects are currently under development, I strongly invite the international community to join and support Ukrainian entrepreneurs, come to the events, and pay attention to the announcements.
One hundred years ago, many Ukrainians also tried to escape from the destructive red army. They were forced to flee but despite this difficult situation, people were able to create what we admire, explore, and which we cannot imagine the modern world without. Kazimir Malevich set a new milestone in art, Igor Sikorsky wrote a new page in the history of aircraft, Vladimir Horowitz had sold — out piano concerts in the most prestigious halls of the United States, Solomiya Krushelnytska and Serge Lifar captivated audiences in many European theaters of the twentieth century. There are many such great people today, and I am sure that this list will go on.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Once I was in the summer camp. Many of my peers were there, and we were always busy with the most important things in the world — rehearsing evening performances, discussing things, field trips, and getting ready for the night dancing. And I clearly felt the change of mood back then: now we are very lively and happy, and after a while, we are tired and sad.
We asked one of the counselors why our mood could not always be on the rise. And he told us of King Solomon’s ring. It says: “Everything passes. And this too shall pass.” Life events, like well-being, change like waves at the sea. One goes away and the other comes in its place, again and again, and again.
I know that everything will end someday. Every war has two dates: the beginning and the end. Every empire crumbles down, and successful independent states are flourishing in its place. I am supported by the idea that this day will come. And there will be a new page in the history of Ukraine and the world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. : — )
As a communications manager, I always try to understand the motives of a person: why they say, act, or do not act in a certain way. I would like to understand the arguments in favor of solutions that destroy not only peaceful cities in Ukraine but also Russia’s economy. Yes, I would like to ask Putin — “Why?”
But it would be more interesting to have a cup of coffee, for example, with Jesus Christ or Leonardo Da Vinci. There are so many issues we could discuss:
- the authenticity of stories about their lives;
- everyone’s personal impression of the world in 2022;
- what they would change if they had the opportunity.
And, of course, I would invite them to the WePlay Arena L.A. to record their addresses to Ukrainians.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
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