Responding to Ukraine’s “ocean of suffering”

Inside 72 hours of the primary Russian missiles placing Kyiv, Ukraine, in February 2022, Ian Miller SM ’19 boarded a flight for Poland.

Later, he’d say he felt motivated by Kyiv’s “tragic ocean of struggling” and Ukrainian President Zelensky’s pleas for assist. However he arrived with little notion of what to do.

As he’d anticipated, his resort in Rzeszów turned out to be a hub for assist employees and journalists. Miller was on his laptop computer, utilizing the foyer Wi-Fi to work remotely as an MIT Vitality Initiative (MITEI) venture supervisor, when he overheard a reporter interviewing a Finnish man about his efforts to get bulletproof vests and helmets to the entrance strains.

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Miller quickly discovered himself loading provides onto trains that had introduced enormous numbers of refugees — largely girls, kids, and the aged — to the station in Rzeszów. The trains ran again at night time, their empty seats crammed with medical provides, mills, and child meals, their lights dimmed to scale back the probabilities of assault.

In April 2022, Miller and volunteers from a half-dozen nations deliberate and drove a convoy of vehicles filled with tourniquets, bandages, and bulletproof vests throughout the border, arriving on the website of the Bucha bloodbath quickly after the Russians retreated.

Miller peered right into a mass grave. “They have been nonetheless excavating it, and people weren’t troopers, you realize?” he says. “I attempt to keep away from issues like that too usually, as a result of it would not assist us save lives to be horrified on a regular basis.” He downplays any potential hazard to himself, telling his household he’s safer the place he’s than in elements of america.

Quickly after his first journey throughout the border, Miller satisfied his former MIT roommate, Evan Platt SM ’20, to come back assist. “Only for per week,” he advised Platt.

Impressed by power

Miller and Platt met in 2008 in Washington, the place Platt was interning on the White Home and Miller was about to begin his senior yr at Georgetown College.

Miller majored in authorities, however his curiosity in power coverage and know-how grew in the course of the years after commencement he spent educating science to main and secondary faculty college students in New York, the place he’d grown up; in Boston; and in Kampala, Uganda. “A number of the most enjoyable, inspiring, partaking classes and modules I did with the children have been targeted on power,” he remembers.

Whereas pursuing an MIT grasp of science in chemical engineering from 2016 to 2018, he began researching photovoltaics and wind energy. He held management positions with the MIT Vitality Convention and the MIT Vitality Membership.

After becoming a member of MITEI, Miller labored on electrical autos (EVs), EV charging patterns, and different purposes. He grew to become venture supervisor and analysis specialist for the Sustainable Vitality System Evaluation Modeling Atmosphere (SESAME), which fashions the degrees of greenhouse gasoline emissions from a number of power sectors in future situations.

Miller and Platt reconnected and shared an house for 3 years. Platt studied techniques design and administration by means of a joint MIT Faculty of Engineering and Sloan Faculty of Administration program, then stayed on to work for the MIT Know-how Licensing Workplace.

Platt left MIT to pursue different pursuits in 2020. The subsequent time the 2 would see one another could be in Poland.

“It’s not simple dwelling and dealing in an lively fight zone,” Platt says. “There’s no one on Earth I’d reasonably be navigating this setting with than Ian.”

Navigating the final mile

In Rzeszów and Ukraine, Miller and U.S. Air Pressure veteran Mark Lindquist oversaw achievement for the brand new staff. With the assistance of Google Translate, their telephones lit up with encrypted texts to and from Polish customs brokers and Ukrainian warehouse operators.

Platt and two Ukrainian staff members took the lead on a wants evaluation of what was most in demand on the entrance. One other staff member led procurement. Their efforts crystallized within the creation of Zero Line, a tax-exempt nonprofit that works intently with the Ukrainian authorities on the entrance line (a.okay.a. “the zero line”).

With Platt on board, “we bought extra rigorous and quantitative by way of lives-saved-per-dollar,” Miller says. 100 {dollars} buys 4 tourniquets. A thousand {dollars} provides crude metal armor to a Jeep. Two thousand {dollars} gives a small remark drone or a satellite tv for pc cellphone, tools that locates Russian artillery and detects Russian assaults.

“Russian artillery shells are the No. 1 killer of Ukrainians, inflicting round 80 p.c of casualties,” he says. “Tourniquets save individuals injured by Russian shells, autos assist evacuate them, and communications tools prevents lethal accidents from occurring within the first place.”

Miller’s abilities in transportation and energy system modeling, developed at MITEI beneath Principal Analysis Scientist Emre Gençer, helped the staff transport greater than 150 used autos — Nissan Pathfinders and vans for shifting civilians away from the entrance, Ford pickups for transporting anti-missile protection techniques — and tons of of batteries, mills, drones, bulletproof vests, and helmets to the entrance by means of nightmarish logistical bottlenecks.

Usually, provides from america, Asia, and elsewhere in Europe transfer by means of Gdansk and Warsaw, then proceed through prepare or car to warehouses in Lviv, round 70 kilometers east of the border. Subsequent is the seven-hour journey to Kyiv or the 12-hour drive to Dnipro (the present southern fringe of the secure “inexperienced zone”) and the ultimate 200 kilometers to the entrance. Right here, says Miller, drivers with coaching and protecting gear, usually members of the Ukrainian navy, take autos and provides to front-line finish customers.

“From day one, we requested our Ukrainian members and companions for introductions, and we’re consistently searching for extra,” Miller says. “When our autos attain the entrance strains, Evan’s staff at all times does interviews about wants, and what’s working, what’s not. What’s saving essentially the most lives.”

“From my early days with Ian, it’s clear he was at all times searching for methods to assist individuals. Connections have been actually essential to him,” says MITEI Director Robert C. Armstrong. “When struggle broke out, he discovered the decision to reply human want irresistible. I feel many people consider doing that, however we get slowed down within the mechanics of on a regular basis life. He simply picked up and went.

“Ian is only a terrific individual and an important function mannequin,” Armstrong says.

Accelerating peace

From the time Miller arrived in late February by means of October 2022, he continued working remotely for MITEI. He now works full time as co-director of Zero Line. For the foreseeable future, Miller will stay in Ukraine and Poland.

He needs to see Ukrainians “comply with within the joyful, free, prospering footsteps of different ex-Soviet states, just like the Baltics,” he says. He’d prefer to see the supply-chain improvements he and Platt achieved utilized to humanitarian crises elsewhere.

Thus far, Zero Line has raised greater than $5 million in donations and delivered tons of of tons of high-impact assist. “A key a part of our strategy has at all times been to assist Ukrainians who excel in saving lives,” Miller says. To that finish, the group works with Ukrainian software program programmers and navy models to create digital maps and processes to switch paper maps and operations “harking back to World Battle II,” Platt says. “Modernizing the intelligence infrastructure to facilitate higher navy operations is a crucial a part of how a smaller navy can beat a bigger, extra highly effective navy.”

The truth that power underlies so many elements of the struggle is rarely removed from Miller’s thoughts. Russia reduce off power provides to Europe, then focused Ukraine’s power infrastructure. On one hand, he understands that billions of individuals in creating nations akin to India want and deserve inexpensive power. Alternatively, he says, oil and gasoline purchases by these nations are straight funding Russia’s struggle machine.

“Everybody needs low-cost renewables and we’re getting there, however it’s taking time. Reducing the prices of renewables and power storage and supporting nascent business fusion — that’s an important focus of MITEI. In the long term, that’ll assist us attain a extra peaceable world, surely.”

Work at MITEI and at Zero Line, Miller says, “actually might speed up peace.”


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