As he watched footage of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their country as Russia invaded, Snowflake Principal Software Engineer Pawel Ufnalewski knew he had to do something.
Ukrainians were flooding into Poland at the border, about 120 miles away from Warsaw’s Snowflake offices where Ufnalewski is based. Polish citizens were providing food, shelter, and transportation to the refugees as they arrived. Wanting to help, Ufnalewski looked online to see if there were any organized efforts to provide relief. But, as always at the beginning of a crisis, everything was disorganized.
Ufnalewski quickly realized he could use his engineering resources and skills to create a much-needed information portal for both refugees and Polish people looking to help them. Through a Facebook IT group, he got in touch with people from Poland’s Center for Information Technology and hatched a plan to create a Craigslist-like site for Ukrainian refugees under an official Polish government domain name, gov.pl.
The site would house up-to-date information for Ukrainians fleeing the war, and allow Polish citizens to post offers of assistance such as housing, transportation, material aid, legal and medical aid, and work opportunities. To ensure safety for the refugees, the portal would authenticate Polish citizens offering help using Poland’s social security system.
The government’s IT resources were stretched too thin to build the website quickly, and time was of the essence. At the same time, as a government site, the portal had to be built with the strictest security and auditability standards. So Ufnalewski assembled a team of employees from engineering, HR, and other departments in Snowflake’s Warsaw office to become first responders in the crisis and to build the API.
“All around Snowflake, in all the teams we work with, everyone was very supportive, and everyone offered their help,” said Ufnalewski. “They even took over some of our other tasks at Snowflake so that we could focus on building the website to help the refugees.”
He got approval from Snowflake’s local leaders and SVP of Engineering Greg Czajkowski, who was very supportive of the project and approved their work on the site during business hours. A project of this size would usually take many months, but the developers completed it in less than a week.
“It was an intensive effort where we were working 14-hour days, including the weekend,” said Tomek Malachowski, a Senior Engineering Manager in the Warsaw office who joined the team as a project coordinator.
The website, https://pomagamukrainie.gov.pl/, which translates to “I am helping Ukraine,” went live on March 30. It’s the first public/private partnership of its kind in Poland. Today, the site is run by the Polish government and involves over 100 volunteers, including employees from Snowflake as well as other local companies in Poland.
Tomasz Rychter, Director of the e-Services Quality Department at Poland’s Center for Information Technology, said the portal is a great example of how cooperation between government and private entities can bring tangible results and joint benefits.
“Both parties gain a lot from it,” Rychter said. “Private entities have the opportunity to see what work in the Center for Information Technology looks like, and the public party learns completely new solutions from the IT community. Sharing experience is a great advantage of working in such a diverse group. Although the coordination of the dispersed team was a great challenge because everyone worked remotely and at different times, the result that we see today on the website proves that it is worth undertaking such projects.”
The portal project is open sourced and available for free on GitHub, which means that anyone who wants to take part can join the project. Leaders from Latvia, another country on the border of Russia, have asked the team to help them create a similar site for their country.
Ufnalewski said it was rewarding for him and others to use their professional abilities to help so many people—more than 2.7 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland since the beginning of the war. “Thanks to the quick efforts and hard work of Snowflake employees and others in the IT community and Polish government, Ukrainian refugees can now get the help they need quickly and safely,” he said.
“On a personal level, the invasion of Ukraine was a very difficult situation for us to cope with,” said Malachowski. “It was therapeutic to be able to do something to help.”