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Helping His Home Away from Home: Andrew Kinsel Launches Ukraine Protection and Development Fund

The School of International Service alumnus puts bravery and brains on the line to raise equipment, funds for Ukrainians facing Russian invasion.

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SIS alumnus Andrew Kinsel (right) donates a generator to a member of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Andrew Kinsel, SIS/BA ’09, didn’t expect to live abroad for upwards of three decades. Sure, he’d envisioned himself exploring China post grad, but Ukraine? The country wasn’t on his radar.

But when Kinsel skipped overseas the summer before his senior year for an exchange program, a series of fateful events led him to the eastern European country—then its US embassy, then a post of his own in that very building.

Today, Ukraine remains Kinsel’s home. And as he Zooms in from his family’s Kyiv property, he explains how not even war could keep him from this place and its people.

Touchdown in Tenleytown

A Houston native raised in Ohio, Kinsel fostered an early interest in international relations. When he started his college search, Washington, DC—and AU’s School of International Service, specifically—stood out to him.

“When I got the big fat letter from American University, I was so happy,” he recalls. A top 1% PSAT performer, he landed a full-ride scholarship. “I just liked everything about American,” he says, nodding to “the quad,” casual dress code, and “big trees.”

AU’s surplus of study-abroad opportunities was another benefit. After just two semesters, Kinsel packed his bags for a historic trip overseas, joining the first group of students in China following the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

And if that weren’t enough adventure, Kinsel later journeyed to Taiwan to teach English. Then, he spent a semester abroad in Brussels—the headquarters of the EU and NATO. Such began his trek, unknowingly, toward Ukraine.

When fate has a hand in the plan 

Kinsel landed in Belgium in early 1992, roughly a week after the Politburo disbanded the Soviet Union. The world was abuzz with the same question: “What will the fate of the Eastern Bloc countries be?”

Kinsel’s curiosity—and a lack of cash to traipse through Paris and Rome—set him on a path toward Eastern Europe on a $10 daily budget. In Poland, he met a friendly Canadian in a youth hostel and made a spontaneous pact to travel to Ukraine with him. They found Kyiv “fun, . . . interesting, . . . and different.”

They ran into a roadblock, though, when planning to pass through Georgia. Unsure whether the country was at war, Kinsel sought out Ukraine’s US embassy to ask. He came upon a “brand new” and understaffed building and, boldly, volunteered to work there for no pay. They accepted and, within weeks, offered him a full-time gig. Later, he would pivot his career abroad toward media advertising.

After wrapping up his studies at AU years later, he returned to Ukraine for what he expected to be his final business venture there. But then, he says, “I met this beautiful woman, and now she's my wife and . . . mother of my kids.”

Standing tall in defense of an adopted home

When Vladimir Putin published an essay in July 2021 describing Ukraine as a rightful part of Russia, Kinsel “understood immediately that he was setting down his philosophical foundation for an attack.” Within weeks, Kinsel had escape routes traced out.

Around 5 a.m. on February 23, 2022, “rockets exploded so close . . . that our house was shaken,” says Kinsel. A Ukrainian air force base, one mile away, was bombed, and “within 20 minutes, everybody . . . [was piled] . . . in the car.”

Once the family reached the Polish border, though, they found themselves hesitant to leave their country in the rearview. “We started helping whoever we could,” Kinsel says. “This is good against evil,” he realized, “and Ukraine has been good to us.”

Kinsel decided to stay, while his wife took their kids to safety in the US. He returned to Kyiv and established the Ukraine Protection and Development Fund (UPDF).

CEO and consultant turned nonprofit creator

Russian attacks on Ukraine have resulted in what the International Rescue Committee calls “extreme civilian harm.” They report that millions of people have seen their access to essentials slashed, infrastructure damage has surpassed $10 billion, and up to half of Ukraine’s power grid has been blown out. UPDF seeks to combat these tolls of war. 

The fund serves four primary functions, while also accepting general donations—the likes of which have helped provide “body armour . . . to various military units in Ukraine.” UPDF runs Generators for Life, supplying electrical generators to damaged regions; Computers for the Front, offering everything from laptops to printers to frontline military and government workers; and Adopt a School, equipping students with tech devices and school supplies. Kinsel also functions as a charity consultant.

In just 18 months, the scope of what the small nonprofit has achieved is remarkable. What’s more, initiatives like Generators for Life—which has circulated more than 100 small generators—illuminate Ukrainians’ selflessness. In one town Kinsel visited, all power lines had been obliterated. But when he offered the community a generator, an elected representative brought it to a neighboring town, considering them worse off. “Now I’ve sent him a generator as well,” Kinsel says.

Through Computers for the Front, more than 2,000 pieces of technology have been circulated to the frontlines. A favorite success story of Kinsel’s involves a city council worker receiving a replacement for her stolen tablet and being moved to tears. Now, she can help protect her community again by pinning undetonated ordnance on digital maps.

Alternatively, Adopt a School caters to one of the most vulnerable populations: children. According to UNICEF, more than 2,600 schools in Ukraine have been targeted, thus displacing five million kids. It is crucial that these young people—college students included—continue learning, even if virtually.

The goal is for all Ukrainians to have their base needs met.

What Americans should know and how they can help

“Ukraine needs the help, and Ukraine deserves the help,” says Kinsel.

Some people waggle their fingers, accusing Ukraine of corruption—but Kinsel urges these individuals to consider Russian dictatorship and propaganda. “Don’t buy into [the lies],” he says, “that Ukrainians don’t exist . . . [and] Ukraine is a failed country.” He calls the nation a real, “thriving, messy democracy,” arguing that messiness comes with the territory “of listening to a bunch of people’s opinions!”

Helping Ukraine clench victory will also “make the world a better place” by “[putting] significant pressure on” the dictatorships Russia is backing.

Oh, and if you have a computer to share? “Please talk to . . . me, and let’s figure out how we can get [it] over here,” Kinsel says. “We really need it.”