School of Data Science Alum Takes on Mission to Aid Ukraine

Thursday, March 24, 2022
Zhenya Goncharov (DSBA ‘19) leaves Silicon Valley job to help rescue workers in war-torn hometown

UNC Charlotte alumnus Zhenya Goncharov (DSBA ‘19), has put his career - and life - on hold to aid the people in his hometown of Irpin, Ukraine in their fight against the Russian Invasion.

Like many other suburbs, Irpin, which is just a 17-mile drive from Kyiv across the strategically significant Irpin River, has become a critical target of attacking Russian forces. 

Just days into the invasion, the New York Times reported that, “a volunteer member of the Territorial Defense Forces described the street fighting in Irpin as an all-out guerrilla war. On the attacking side are the Russian troops, which Western military analysts say are likely elite airborne Special Forces units. Defending against them are local volunteers, many of whom had just been handed rifles a few days before the Russians arrived…alongside veteran militia fighters and uniformed troops.”

“I was feeling very unsettled, helpless, as the invasion began,” Goncharov said. “A couple of days after the war broke out and as I was trying to go about my normal day, my wife told me she supported me one hundred percent if I felt a calling to help or even go to Ukraine. It was as if she detonated inside of me an atomic bomb of energy and desire to rescue as many people as possible. Almost immediately, I met with my manager at work, who was very supportive, and made this effort my full-time focus.”

After establishing all of the required logistical, administrative, and financial processes to accept and disperse donations, Goncharov began raising money to fund rescue operations, specifically providing defensive and protective equipment for drivers and rescue squads, all of whom are volunteers and many are Goncharov’s childhood friends.

Those delivering aid have proven particularly vulnerable as this conflict unfolds. On March 23, several international news agencies reported that Russian forces had been accused of seizing 15 rescue workers and drivers who were working with a humanitarian convoy to provide food and supplies to Mariupol, which has endured heavy attacks throughout the invasion.

For Goncharov, pausing his career and sacrificing his income (and sleep) to help the people of Irpin is just the right thing to do.

“I don’t know if I consider myself an activist,” he said. “However, looking back at my life, I see a progression where I care less and less about what people around me think of me and care more and more about defending the poor, the needy, and the helpless.”

When asked about Goncharov, Doug Hague, executive director for UNC Charlotte’s School of Data Science (SDS), said, “I'm very grateful for Zhenya as he shapes what is next for our global community and specifically his home. One of SDS's guiding principles is to prepare our students to be engaged and impactful citizens in the communities in which they live and work. Zhenya is a shining example of that.”

“First of all, our hearts go out to the people in Ukraine, and from Ukraine, who are currently living the horrors of war, loss, and displacement,” said College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) Dean Fatma Mili. “All of us at CCI are proud of Zhenya, who has shown tremendous courage and taken a principled stand to support his countrymen and women. His academic success and what he did with that success are an excellent model for the graduates we aim to produce: competent scientists, empathetic humans, and community oriented world citizens.”

To Help:

There are still many hundreds of people who need evacuation. Using this LINK, individuals are able to finance the purchase of defensive equipment that will be delivered to the most dangerous areas of Ukraine. Those who risk their lives to get people out of war zones are in dire need of boots, flashlights, walkie-talkies, fuel, bulletproof vests, thermal sights, helmets, night vision, power banks, etc. 

As the humanitarian crisis is unfolding, people need their basic needs to be met. Money from this fund will be used to supply medical help, current humanitarian needs, rent and food for those who are still in Ukraine, and the future rebuilding of the community in Irpin. LINK 

Goncharov requests that the UNCC community include “UNCC” in the comments section for easier tracking. “I would love to be able to quantify and personally thank each current student, faculty, staff and alumni,” said Goncharov. 

More on Goncharov:

Born in Kyiv in 1991, Goncharov moved as an infant to Texas when his father enrolled at the Dallas Theological Seminary. When he was five, his family moved back to Ukraine, settling in Irpin, where his father started the Irpin Bible Church. Goncharov lived in Irpin, an industrial-manufacturing city of 60,000 residents, until he returned to the U.S. at 17 to attend United Faith Christian Academy in South Charlotte as a foreign exchange student. After high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Economics from Hampden-Sydney College (VA) as its first-ever Ukrainian student and an MBA from Wake Forest University. In 2019, he graduated from UNC Charlotte's Data Science and Business Analytic MS program. Goncharlov worked at both Bank of America and Wells Fargo before recently joining Silicon Valley biotech startup, Karius, as a consultant.

Goncharov’s wife Lily (pictured with him during a trip to Death Valley, CA) is from Moldova. The pair met in Charlotte and were married six months later. He has two brothers, Alex and Timothy, the latter of whom serves in the United States Air Force.