The fighting in Ukraine has been called “a WhatsApp war” amid widespread reliance on messaging apps by journalists, soldiers and ordinary civilians, and their central role in spreading propaganda.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp’s inventor, a Ukrainian-born Jew whose creation made him one of the wealthiest people in the world, has kept conspicuously quiet throughout the conflict. Jan Koum, who controls a multi-billion-dollar charitable foundation, has not uttered a public word even as many other wealthy Ukrainians and Russians announce donations toward humanitarian relief efforts.
But based on an examination of tax returns filed by Koum’s foundation before the war, the publicity-shy WhatsApp founder, who arrived in California as a teenager, is more entwined than meets the eye with the events rocking the country he left behind as a 16-year-old. His donations, only a sliver of which have been previously reported, include tens of millions of dollars to Jewish organizations now involved in relief efforts in Eastern Europe.
For example, from 2019 to 2020, the latest year for which there is a tax return, the Koum Family Foundation donated about $17 million to the European Jewish Association, an organization headquartered in Brussels that launched a campaign in March to provide housing, food and clothing to refugees from the war. Nearly all of the group’s 2019 budget came from Koum.
With $10.6 million in gifts over that same period, Koum’s foundation is also one of the most significant donors to another group involved in relief efforts: the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. The group, whose name refers to the Commonwealth of Independent States, an association of former Soviet territories, announced the establishment of an ambulance fleet to evacuate patients throughout Ukraine.
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