San Francisco company opening mental health center, drone pilot school in Ukraine

Russia’s war on Ukraine has negatively affected the mental health of those living there, compelling a San Francisco-based company to provide help.

JustAnswer, an online platform that connects people with experts for professional advice has funded the JustAnswer National Mental Health Center in Lviv, set to open next week. 

It will be a lifeline for those suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, amid the war.

"With a country of 44 million people suffering these traumas of bombs falling near them every single day, that takes a toll on people’s mental health," said CEO Andy Kurtzig. "We knew that was coming."

Construction of the new 5,000 square foot facility has taken four months to build. It will be operated in partnership with the major hospital and the city.

The center will provide no cost care to people suffering from trauma and other mental conditions because of the war. There are 20 professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists who will work there fulltime.

JustAnswer has had a presence in country for more than a decade, where it employs nearly 300 people.

Many of those Ukrainian workers said they’ve been stressed, worried or traumatized by the war.

"I’m just really afraid that this war will change me to some extent, that I will not be recognizing myself anymore," said employee Nadia Semen. "Sometimes we don’t realize we need help."

She is one of the 15,000 people the mental health center aims to serve this year alone. Next year, its goal is 40,000.

In Ukraine, awareness and treatment of mental trauma is low.

The country is not well-equipped to deal with the large numbers of soldiers and citizens mentally affected by the escalating and drawn out conflict.

Recent studies show in conflict-affected areas, one person in five is estimated to develop major psychiatric illnesses. 

"If you have a wound, you would probably see it and someone would say you need to go to the doctor," Semen said. "But when you’re just behaving a little bit differently, maybe you’re tired…we have a lot of explanations of why we’re okay."  

Since the beginning of the war, JustAnswer has made it a mission to provide aid and assistance to employees and refugees.

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Kurtzig and his family, who used to live in Ukraine, spent their spring break delivering critical medical supplies, body armor and food.

The next big project is a drone pilot school, which is in the planning stages to eventually launch more eyes on the enemy.

"The training is to help the civilians know where the Russians are, when they’re getting ready to attack so they can evacuate," Kurtzig said. "Our goal is safety."

The company donated 11 sophisticated surveillance drones in honor of the tech-company’s 11th year in Ukraine.

It’s yet another testament to the Bay Area’s reach to improve the health and lives of Ukrainians.

"This is a tricky time and a tricky situation in this war," Kurtzig said. "This is when they need our support more than ever."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU