Main a Enterprise in Ukraine Through the Struggle

On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. This dramatic escalation of a battle that…

Main a Enterprise in Ukraine Through the Struggle

On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. This dramatic escalation of a battle that started 2014 sparked an ongoing warfare that has led to tens of hundreds of deaths and the biggest European refugee disaster since World Struggle II. It’s been condemned by 141 international locations as an illegal act of aggression.

Because the world marks the one-year anniversary of the invasion, we needed to know how companies in Ukraine have navigated the final 12 months. To that finish, we carried out in-depth interviews with a various group of 10 Ukrainian managers and executives, representing industries together with recruiting, IT, schooling, enterprise capital, well being and health, agriculture, and oil and gasoline.

We requested them about their experiences main within the midst of warfare, the challenges they confronted, and the teachings they discovered. Their tales — translated and edited for readability — comply with and make clear a number of widespread themes.


When the specter of a Russian invasion turned actual in early 2022, Ukrainian software program improvement firm Ralabs started making ready. It created new HR insurance policies in case workers had been drafted, developed an in depth relocation plan for workers throughout eight completely different international locations, and carried out worker trainings on working overseas, first help, and the right way to pack an emergency suitcase. As workers had been changing into more and more careworn (particularly when international media started predicting that if a warfare started, Kyiv would fall in a couple of days), the corporate made positive to enrich its tactical sources with psychological well being help, co-founder and COO Roman Rodomansky informed us.

In fact, the arrival of warfare shocked even essentially the most ready organizations. However our interviewees informed us that after the Russian military retreated from Kyiv, they had been largely capable of adapt to their new actuality. When Russian assaults focused Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, they rapidly arrange new workspaces geared up with mills and satellite tv for pc web. When workers needed to relocate, employers supplied help, coaching, and sources. To remain afloat whereas shoppers disappeared and revenues fell, leaders discovered artistic methods to chop operational prices with out laying individuals off. Many additionally described how they had been capable of construct on the adaptability and resilience, notably when it got here to distributed work, that their groups had already demonstrated in the course of the pandemic.

At 4:30 within the morning on February 24, I woke as much as sirens blaring, rockets flying, explosions in every single place. My neighbor’s home was hit, simply 700 meters from me. Thank God, his spouse was nonetheless asleep — the blankets protected her when their bed room window shattered and coated the room in glass. All of us hid within the basement, and once we may escape, we went to stick with kin in Western Ukraine. Six households stayed within the basement there, meals was operating out, there have been queues, shifts for the whole lot. I imply, you possibly can’t dwell like that.

Finally, my household was capable of get to Poland, and I went to my hometown close to Odesa. However these first few months, there was no work. There have been no shoppers. If somebody known as, it was to speak about who was alive and who was not, who was in occupied areas, who had kin in bother, who was within the basement, and in what situation.

Then, in Could, enterprise began taking place once more. The Russians left Bucha and Irpin, and I returned to Kyiv — although not with out incident. A bridge was blown up, and our little prepare stood there for 2 hours, ready for the missile raid to finish. I keep in mind Googling the width of the river, and the water temperature, calculating whether or not I’d be capable to make it throughout if the prepare fell from the tracks. I even took off my sneakers and coat, simply in case, so I’d be able to swim. However fortunately, they repaired the tracks, and I made it to Kyiv in a single piece.

By now, issues are largely again to regular for my firm. We’re a small group, like a guerilla workforce. All of us disbanded, however we’ve all returned. And if I’ve discovered something, it’s to all the time be ready. Now I do know what to do if there’s an invasion, and I’ve arrange the whole lot I can for my enterprise and my household in case I’m not right here tomorrow. My record of contingency plans bought longer, and I perceive higher the right way to react to those dangers. All of us do. And, nicely, if a zombie apocalypse comes, I feel we’d be much more prepared for it than earlier than.

— Volodymyr, Kyiv
Founding associate, startup advisory agency

Our conversations made it clear that resilient organizations go hand in hand with resilient leaders. Private resilience permits the fast decision-making, consolation with quick planning horizons, and agility essential to help a workforce by way of quickly evolving challenges. As Yevhen Tytiuk, president of an oil and gasoline gear producer, mirrored, “To be trustworthy, I’ve had some horrible ideas. However now, I’m stuffed with enthusiasm. In fact, we haven’t been capable of keep pre-war ranges, and we’ve needed to adapt loads. However based mostly on the volumes we now have now, I feel we’re going to be okay.”

The leaders we interviewed described quite a lot of coping mechanisms to assist them get well from the trauma wrought by the warfare and fulfill their tasks to their workers, from overtly sharing their emotions with their groups to carving out time for hobbies and mates to deliberately specializing in humor and optimism.

These days, we name it “war-life stability” — when missiles are flying overhead; individuals are working from bomb shelters, basements, and bogs; we now have no energy, no web; faculties are closed, so youngsters are with us at dwelling…the stress and anxiousness are intense.

However nonetheless, we now have to search out moments of pleasure. We have now to search out some method to stability work, volunteering, serving to the navy, and caring for household. We have now to discover a method to make all of it work.

In fact, our management workforce had a enterprise continuity plan. However we by no means believed that we would wish to activate it. Within the fast aftermath of the invasion, our first problem was making certain the bodily security of our workers. We managed to relocate many to Lviv, the place the warfare was nonetheless painful, however enterprise may proceed to function. Precedence quantity two was ensuring we may maintain paying our individuals.

And amazingly, just some days after the invasion, 90% of our workers had been already again to work. Their dedication was extraordinary, and it meant we had been capable of maintain the vast majority of our shoppers, as a result of finally, additionally they have to get their jobs executed.

In fact, there have been moments that had been emotionally devastating. I had a colleague who misplaced her father within the warfare. Others had shut kin who had been captured within the occupied territories. One has a brother who’s been imprisoned for six months with no phrase on the place he’s or when he could also be launched.

After we hear these tales, or once we see the images of the brutalities dedicated within the liberated territories, all of us really feel nice struggling, and we are able to’t anticipate to be as productive as normal. However as a frontrunner, I discover that sharing my vulnerabilities overtly and becoming a member of volunteer efforts helps me and my workforce to maneuver ahead. I do know I can’t absolutely shield everybody, and I do know that some uncertainty is inescapable, however we do our greatest to supply no matter help we are able to.

— Lidiya Dats, Lviv
Co-founder and head of HR, TechMagic (software program engineering firm)


The leaders we spoke with discovered a shared sense of goal in persevering with enterprise operations that had been supporting the warfare effort by using individuals and paying taxes; in volunteering and donating to medical reduction efforts, refugee resettlement applications, and navy help funds; and in growing merchandise that might assist on a regular basis Ukrainians.

For instance, CEO of ed-tech platform GIOS, Nataliia Limonova, shared that she began together with a name for donations to a Ukraine reduction fund when pitching her enterprise to traders, enabling her to fundraise for her firm whereas constructing worldwide help for her nation. Her emotion was palpable when she described seeing donations from fellow enterprise leaders begin to pour in.

GIOS was additionally considered one of a number of Ukrainian firms that selected to supply their services to Ukrainians without spending a dime. These leaders shared that regardless of substantial hurdles, a powerful sense of goal helped inspire and unite their individuals — even of their darkest hours.

Based on current estimates, 90% of Ukrainians at this time exhibit signs of PTSD. And you realize, this psychological well being stuff, it’s not as fashionable right here as it’s within the U.S. and Europe. Lots of people are reluctant to confess they need assistance. So, once we’re capable of make a distinction, once we get suggestions {that a} buyer was lastly capable of get an excellent evening’s sleep after finishing considered one of our applications, once we’re capable of provide free entry to sources that assist with stress, anxiousness, and melancholy, that helps our workforce actually really feel the significance of our mission.

Nonetheless, when the warfare began, I needed to discover and articulate a brand new imaginative and prescient for the corporate, for why we must always transfer ahead whilst bombs fell throughout us. We all know that our military fights for navy victory on the entrance line, however we combat on the financial entrance line. This isn’t only a enterprise, it’s a method to help our nation. When our firm is secure and profitable, we after all enhance our clients’ lives, however we additionally donate to the military, pay taxes and salaries, and create jobs that make it attainable for the sensible minds of Ukraine to remain right here, fairly than leaving to search out work overseas. I’m extra helpful to my nation with a laptop computer than with a weapon.

My title could be CEO, however not too long ago, I’m extra like chief power officer. My job is to maintain morale up, maintain the workforce’s batteries charged, and encourage everybody to assist one another, our enterprise, and our nation — in no matter methods we are able to.

— Victoria Repa, Kyiv
CEO, BetterMe (well being and health platform)

The leaders we spoke with additionally described discovering goal in serving to construct the nation’s future by retaining and growing expertise, rebuilding the financial system, and fostering new industries to fill the gaps left by elements of Ukraine’s financial system, such because the agriculture sector, which have been severely broken.

It is a enormous tragedy for the for the Ukrainian individuals, for the nation. However it’s additionally a novel alternative, as a result of the nation has by no means been so united. It’s an opportunity to push our nation ahead, to spend money on our nation, to ensure that when this warfare ends, we’re poised to hitch the ranks of really developed nations.

All of us perceive that we now have knowledgeable military, and so they’re doing their job. So we now have to do our job, right here. As soon as my workforce and I understood this, we turned extra targeted, extra pushed to search out artistic methods to assist the founders we work with and adapt our applications to fulfill new demand. After the warfare, we’re going to want loads of sensible individuals right here in Ukraine, and I see our work as serving to to arrange the subsequent technology of younger entrepreneurs to steer our nation ahead.

— Ivan Petrenko, Lviv
Managing associate, Angel One Enterprise Fund and CEO, CfE Accelerator


The leaders we interviewed persistently emphasised how empathy had develop into central to their approach, whether or not by providing monetary help to struggling workers, insisting burned-out staff take day off, or just listening to workers. One government, who described usually taking time to take heed to his driver speak about his son, who was serving on the entrance line in Japanese Ukraine, joked that his function was much like that of {that a} priest.

On the identical time, the leaders we spoke with additionally famous the bounds of empathy. Many mirrored that except they went by way of an identical expertise themselves, they might by no means absolutely perceive somebody who had misplaced a house or a beloved one.

You already know, more often than not, once I discuss to my colleagues, I don’t simply speak about work. I discuss to them as individuals. And I feel they’ll see that the dialog isn’t nearly enterprise, that I’m additionally desirous about them on a private stage, and they also simply naturally open up a bit extra. It evokes a type of hope, a type of positivity.

For instance, earlier than the warfare, I had bought my automobile to considered one of my workers on credit score. She was going to pay me again in installments, however as soon as the warfare began, I informed her it wasn’t essential to pay me again. And it turned out that the automobile ended up serving to her and her husband an important deal, as a result of it was a four-wheel drive, and with out it, they may not have been capable of escape Kyiv. Issues like this deliver individuals collectively round you.

I used to be continuously in contact with my colleagues, my companions. I knew what everybody was going through, and since I knew about their lives, I used to be all the time largely involved with their security — questions of enterprise might need been there someplace, however they had been within the background.

— Yevhen, Kyiv
Founder and common supervisor, grain and oil seeds buying and selling firm


You simply have to take heed to your individuals. It is advisable actually pay attention — don’t simply hear what they are saying, however tune in to how they’re actually doing.

I had a workforce lead with two young children, and her mom lived close to Mykolaiv, in an space that was occupied by Russia. She was an important lady, a extremely robust supervisor, however I may see that with the whole lot happening, she was more and more careworn. However generally individuals aren’t all the time capable of take their very own temperature. At first, she insisted that she was okay, however we talked extra, and I simply listened, and finally she realized simply how taxing it had all been for her. From there, we had been capable of work collectively to determine how the corporate may assist and the way we may transfer ahead as a workforce.

It doesn’t matter what, that’s my method: We’re all one workforce. I don’t imagine in treating individuals in another way, whether or not they’re a freelancer or full time, junior or senior, marketer or engineer. Generally, when there have been blackouts, a few of our freelancers couldn’t discover a place to do their work, since all of the cafes and free areas had been completely full, so I requested my workforce to arrange some workspaces for them. Certainly one of my shoppers was stunned, as a result of he thought it wasn’t our accountability to do all that. However I don’t imagine you can begin splitting the workforce, as if some individuals are extra necessary than others. We’re all individuals, all of us care about one another, and we’re all going through these challenges collectively.

— Natalia Tkachova, Odesa
Undertaking supervisor and workforce lead, TechMagic


The leaders we interviewed virtually universally shared moments of deep gratitude within the midst of tragedy. They described how they’d take only a transient pause to acknowledge the positives of their lives, giving them the power, motivation, and optimism to hold on. Certainly, research has shown that easy expressions of gratitude can scale back stress, enhance interpersonal relationships, and even enhance physical health.

I run a recruiting company that helps worldwide firms rent tech expertise in Ukraine. Earlier than the warfare, our pitch was primarily, “Hey, Individuals, we all know what you pay for builders — come to Ukraine and you will get the identical high quality for half the value.”

However when the warfare began, lots of our clients felt it was too dangerous to rent Ukrainian builders, or open Ukrainian workplaces, so we misplaced loads of enterprise. It was a extremely exhausting time, there was loads of uncertainty, however it additionally confirmed me how a lot I’ve to be pleased about. My workforce was unbelievable, prepared to do no matter wanted to be executed to maintain the corporate afloat. And naturally, I’m actually grateful for the oldsters defending our nation on the entrance strains, giving us the chance to maintain working and creating worth for our clients. We’ve confronted some powerful occasions, however actually, I’m so lucky to be the place I’m. For me to complain simply wouldn’t make sense, not when there are people who find themselves really giving up their lives for our nation day-after-day.

Even small issues, I discovered to understand to a brand new stage. For the primary few days, as an example, the entire financial system stopped, grocery store cabinets had been empty, I couldn’t even purchase diapers for my one-year-old. Then in the future, I used to be capable of get some, and I felt such pleasure at having the ability to get one thing I used to take with no consideration.

I keep in mind one other time, I used to be going to mattress after an extended, 16-hour workday, and I stated to my spouse, “I really feel actually glad proper now.” I used to be spent, exhausted, however I felt that I had given my work and my household the whole lot I may that day, no extra, no much less. And I keep in mind considering, if I may dwell my complete life that method, I’d die glad.

— Bogdan, Lviv
CEO, tech expertise recruitment company


I lead an ed-tech startup, and each our in-house workforce and the academics on our platform had been superb. Everybody tailored to the challenges, some even instructing from their basements in the course of the blackouts.

However we had been alleged to obtain our subsequent tranche of funding on February 28, and naturally, that didn’t grow to be within the playing cards. Plus, we gave college students free entry to our platform as quickly because the warfare began, to assist households who could also be displaced. So, nicely, money stream has been a problem.

But some days, I’m nonetheless simply overwhelmed with gratitude. Take this morning: I’m in my home, and a gorgeous winter day is throughout me. I’m with my husband, we simply completed breakfast, and the morning appears like a small vacation, simply because we’re alive, and we are able to see these lovely environment, and I’ve my workforce and my household with me. And we now have the chance to assist so many individuals by way of our work, to encourage individuals and help college students and academics all world wide. Generally, I’ve days like that: superb days.

— Nataliia Limonova, Kyiv
Founder and CEO, GIOS (interactive math platform for college students and academics)