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San Francisco-Based Software Engineer's App Helping Ukrainians Connect With Loved Ones

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- On February 24 at San Francisco City Hall, software engineer Zsombor Szabo said "I do" to his now-wife, Mehrnaz. February 24 was also the day that Russia invaded Ukraine.

Little did the groom know that something he created years ago to help him find love, would later bring him to the city where he would meet the love of his life and be the way loved ones in war-torn Ukraine can connect.

"It started about four years ago," explained Szabo. "At that time I was single and what does a single software developer do? He develops a dating app."

While living in his home country of Romania, Szabo built a dating app to help him find love.

"You go to a bar, and you can see the profiles there, that are there with you," said Szabo. "And like Tinder, you can swipe left or right."

No one really swiped right on his dating app idea but his messenger part of the app got a bunch of likes.

"It worked entirely offline using Bluetooth," says Szabo about what makes his messenger app different.

Szabo built a general-purpose messaging app called Berkanan Messenger that eventually caught the attention of a San Francisco-based digital identification service Proxy where he would ultimately meet Mehrnaz.

"After having, like, five dates, I knew that this was the one, and ever since then I was working towards that proposal," said Szabo.

Berkanan app Zsombor Szabo
Zsombor and Mehrnaz Szabo chat with KPIX 5's Amanda Starrantino at Proxy in San Francisco about his Berkanan app now helping Ukraine families contact their loved ones. (CBS)

Days after the couple tied the knot at city hall, Szabo learned from Apple that his Berkanan Messenger app, which had been put on the backburner, was gaining a lot of traction seemingly out of the blue.

"I got an email from Apple that your Berkanan Messenger app got a usage increase, like, more than 1000%," said Szabo.

People in Ukraine were downloading the app in the days after the start of the war with Russia. Most Ukrainians are currently without internet due to the Russian attacks. Berkanan Messenger is all through Bluetooth, allowing loved ones to contact each other without the use of the internet.

"Here we can see there was an uptick in impressions and downloads on the day the war started," explained Szabo. "And here we can see the territory that had the most downloads was Ukraine."

Szabo's app even gained the attention of the Ukraine government, sharing his method of communication in local publications to help people contact their families.

"Inside I felt, okay, so good that people are using it and that I can support the war, that I can support the war in a positive way," said Szabo.

The Berkanan Messenger app, a product of Szabo wanting to find love himself, years later is now the way loved ones are able to connect in a time of distress.

"If it helps people there then that is great," he said.

Szabo has made the app as accessible as he can for people in the Ukraine region once he realized the need for it. He removed his cut of the profit to lower the price for people who need to use the app.

Download the app at

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