From The Editor | March 15, 2022

Biotech Leader, Kyiv Native Rallies Support For Ukraine

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By Matthew Pillar, Editor, BioProcess Online

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A young Ivan Liachko in his hometown Kyiv, Ukraine

When Ivan Liachko was 11 years old, his parents gathered up him and his younger brother and the belongings they could carry and left the political instability of their home in Kyiv, Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. In 1990, the family emigrated to the United States, where young Ivan took up new roots. A year later, the Soviet Union fell. Liachko recalls how strange it was to hold a passport issued by a place that no longer existed.

In the U.S., Liachko excelled at science, eventually earning his B.S. in biology at Brandeis and a Ph.D. in genetics from Cornell. His career in academia was fruitful. He expanded the field of high-throughput screening of DNA replication origins during his postdoc at Cornell and continued that work as a Senior Fellow at the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences.

Ivan Liachko, Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO, Phase Genomics
In 2015, Liachko co-founded Phase Genomics on the back of his academic research endeavors. The company develops technology for genome and metagenome assembly. In addition to its work in conservation and biodiversity, Phase’s suite of long-range sequencing and computational tools are finding their place in the life sciences. They’re helping researchers understand the relationships between metagenomics and the human microbiome, infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, and gene function. The tools are also enabling research on the potential of cytogenomics and epigenomics in oncology, guiding the development of precision medicine in the space.

It's a small company with big potential, and Liachko is energized about the work. But the war raging in his homeland is consuming much of his bandwidth, and he’s mobilizing his industry to help. 

Helpless To His Homeland

To speak with Liachko, you wouldn’t immediately pick up on the Ukrainian roots. He’s undoubtedly American, but if anything offers a clue to his ancestry, it’s those unmistakable Ukrainian eyes. For the past few weeks, those eyes have taken on an air of worry.

The place where Liachko spent his early formative years is being terrorized by a barrage of missiles and bombs directed by a powerful adversary in Putin’s Russian military. He has many friends and a large extended family there. Some have joined the more than 2 million who have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and beyond to Czechia, Germany, and Bulgaria. Many more have stayed put in Ukraine, where they’ve vowed to fight, or at least attempt to survive the onslaught.

Prior to the Russian invasion, Liachko’s friends, family, and former neighbors were living comfortable lives that mirrored your own. They lived in a beautiful country dotted with lovely cities and towns characterized by a mix of historic architecture and modern conveniences. They went to work, they went shopping, they dined out and went to pubs and parks and soccer matches. They walked their dogs, posted selfies on social media, and went on living even as the threat of an invasion loomed.

On February 24, 2022, that all changed. Since that day, millions of families just like yours have been forced to abandon their homes, pets, belongings, and comforts to seek safety. Tens of thousands have taken to deep underground subway stations in Kyiv alone, where they’ve spent days and weeks sheltering from air raids and missile strikes. Tens of thousands more have taken up arms in resistance.

For those who remain in Ukraine, the hallmarks of a young democratic economy have come to a screeching halt. Grocery stores are wiped clean, their supply chains disrupted. Banking networks are broken, restricting access to cash. The streets of Ukraine’s cities are unsafe. The civilian death toll—already in the thousands—climbs by the hour. Its people have been cut off from the lifelines we take for granted.

A Biotech Leader Takes Action

Obviously, none of this sits well with Liachko, a successful Ukrainian-American academic and biotech entrepreneur living comfortably in his Seattle home, nearly 6,000 miles from his native city in distress. At first, he watched helplessly. There seemed little he could do but attempt to wire funds directly to his friends and relatives there, in hopes they could use that money to buy food, or fare to escape.

Then, as images of the carnage in Kyiv, Odessa, Luhansk, and other cities under siege in his homeland made their way to the U.S., Liachko’s employees and colleagues here in the States began asking questions. They were looking for direction, wondering how they could help.

That’s when Liachko took action as the leader that he is. He announced that Phase Genomics would make matching contributions to any donations its employees made to Ukrainian relief efforts. It didn’t matter if employees chose to support the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), the Ukrainian-American nonprofit Razom, the Voices of Children Foundation, or any other organization providing aid and relief. Phase Genomics would match their donation dollar-for-dollar.

The response among the 25 employees at Phase Genomics was immediate. “Our associates gave, and they gave generously,” says Liachko. “Their contributions to a worthy cause are making a difference for people in need, and the ongoing rally has pulled the team closer and boosted morale here.”

Now, Liachko and Phase Genomics are taking the initiative beyond their four walls. The company has launched a social media campaign inciting the leaders of other companies—biotech and otherwise—to mirror its giving program. It’s a concerted, albeit informal, grassroots effort. “We’re not counting the money. We’re not interested in vanity metrics,” says Liachko. “We just want to make company leaders in biotech and beyond aware that there’s an easy way to initiate an impact by mirroring the effort here at Phase Genomics—a simple company match of dollars sent directly to organizations aiding the citizens of Ukraine. And, in a refugee situation like this, a hundred dollars might feed a few families for a week.”

The response indicates growing interest and action, as individuals inspired by the effort at Phase Genomics report their own private donations and share that they’re imploring their organizations to take up the cause. Others in Liachko’s social circles have been inspired to create job boards for Ukrainian scientists and researchers and post laboratory opportunities to host them.

Get in touch with Liachko to learn more about Phase Genomics’ efforts and opportunities to get involved in relief efforts for the people of Ukraine.