Sunflower Relief has worked tirelessly over the last three months creating a robust logistical network to deliver emergency support to civilians trapped in war-torn Ukraine. To bring positivity and new energy to their fundraising, the not-for-profit organisation - founded by Irra Ariella Khi, Ukraine-born tech entrepreneur and CEO of Zamna and Sunflower Relief - orchestrated a different kind of delivery: a world-first 3D hologram of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to seven tech events across Europe.
As the war in Ukraine approaches four months, signs of complacency are starting to show across the rest of the world. Media coverage is thinning, and support (monetary and other forms such as supplies or cargo space) is tailing off. While many of us in the UK bask in the glorious summer sunshine, millions of civilians in Ukraine face gunfire, shelling, starvation, and fear for their lives.
President Zelenskyy is known for standing strong with his country. At the beginning of the war, he made a statement telling the people of Ukraine in his (now daily) Instagram addresses, “I am not going anywhere, I am here.” True to his word, the President, his family, and ministers have remained in Ukraine united on the ground against the Russian military.
The logistics behind President Zelenskyy’s appearance
Beaming the most famous man in the world from a country ravaged by war to seven different tech events simultaneously is no small feat. Working to achieve the dream together with Brent Hoberman - Co-Founder and Chairman of Founders Forum - Khi achieved the impossible with Founders Forum’s team, when President Zelenskyy appeared alongside Gayle King, Nile Rodgers, Amanda Holden and Bernard Henri-Lévy to promote rebuilding his country and a digital future for Ukraine.
The first obstacle for Khi was convincing the President and his office to agree to the idea. Understandably, the President’s time is precious and is only available to those with genuine power to support Ukraine. Sunflower Relief to date has raised £2.1 million to support those who remain in Ukraine without access to foreign aid; it was this remarkable track record (and incredible persistence from Khi) that resulted in the pitches to offices of Minister Podoliak and Minister Arestovich - and ultimately the pitch to Serhii Nykyforof – the Press Secretary in Ukraine – being accepted by the President’s office.
The second hurdle was transporting a film crew from the UK to Ukraine to record the hologram. Volumetric capture technology from a New York-based augmented reality company, Evercoast, was used for this world-first production. A team of six engineers travelled by air to Poland, then overland to Kyiv, along with all their equipment, which itself posed a potential security threat requiring extensive communications between Khi and Ukrainian authorities. War zone insurance proved to be a huge challenge (in fact, one of the hardest things Carolyn Dawson - CEO of Founders Forum - has ever had to arrange). Even the Ukrainian embassy in the UK was involved, to ensure efficient communications and safe travel of the team.
Specialised volumetric cameras arranged in a circle around the President in an eight-metre square green room captured the production. The equipment was set up then gifted to Zelenskyy and his team in Ukraine. The Evercoast team trained Ukrainian engineers to use it, to enable creation of future hologram messages from the President.
The result of Sunflower’s hard work was a ground-breaking technological achievement – a hologram President Zelenskyy kick-starting the drive for tech and business sectors across Europe to support Ukraine through these terrible times and in the rebuilding of his country.
President Zelenskyy’s message
President Zelenskyy’s message called for unity in the rebuilding of Ukraine. In this first-of-a-kind hologram address, he calls on technological leaders to use their technologies, knowledge, expertise, and investments to rebuild for a new, free, digital Ukraine.
Appearing live in front of over 200,000 tech leaders across the continent, the President sent a message of hope, focused not on current tragedies but rebuilding Ukraine. He promoted the use of technology to improve government-to-business and government-to-people relations, avoiding bureaucracy, corruption, and delays – a stark contrast to the reputation of Russian communications.
Volunteer exhaustion and donor fatigue are affecting Sunflower’s fundraising efforts, as the war is increasingly distanced from the lives of those not directly affected. This message from the Ukrainian President ignited a flurry of support, helping Sunflower Relief to raise almost £1 million on the day of the Founders Forum flagship event, bringing their total raised to help Ukrainian citizens to over £2.1 million.
We are here
The tech community stands tall alongside Ukraine; a video filmed by Thomas Hoegh - Norwegian artist, investor, and entrepreneur - at the Founders Forum flagship event in Oxford and London captures the declaration of unity from all those attending: we are here.
Described as a “force of nature” by Martin Williams - Evercoast engineer - Khi has demonstrated the amazing achievements Sunflower can accomplish through sheer determination and by nurturing local connections on the ground in Ukraine in their wartime aid work.