February: Fear starts to spread
‘When the news [of war] starts to become more intense at the beginning of February, we decide to do something. Most of our team works in Kyiv at our office or they work remotely. So, we thought: if something happens, let's move everyone in the team to western Ukraine. Of course, it was very naive to think we could do anything, because when the war starts, no one can move. The roads are blocked with heavy traffic. We can't do anything; we can't even arrange a bus. It was stupid to think that we could. And accommodation in the west and Lviv is already packed, so we can't rent anything. People are also making their own plans with their family and relatives. Many people decide to stay because they – or their family – are afraid to leave.’
March: Reacting to the invasion
‘Ten hours before the war starts, I come back from vacation in Barcelona with my parents and my son. My parents got on the train to go to Kharkiv – one of the cities that was hit the most. When the missiles started, we were sleeping. I didn't hear the sirens. When we woke up, it was awful. Because of the sirens and lack of petrol – you only could take 20 liters at a time – we decide not to leave Kyiv. Then, in the evening, they announced a curfew, so we decide to go first thing in the morning. We spent some days on the road then, on Monday, we crossed the border to Hungary and then flew to Israel.
‘As a business, we decide right away that we're going to give everyone a two-month cash advance because, if something happens to the banking system, we want people to have cash. Also, we assure everyone that they're going to keep their jobs. We want to make sure that people aren't going to have to worry about whether they'll still be able to feed their families. We also say to the team: you can take off as many days as you need; you can work part time; and if you can't work at all, just let us know. [If anyone wants] to mobilize, they can keep their salary and their job.
‘Our CMO is in the army – he's been fighting since 2014. He's an amazing guy and he's on the front. We've got two more mobilized team members, one on the front in the east and another who didn't have any military experience when he signed up, who's now giving technical support from his base. But most people in the team have someone at the front, a father or spouse or a close friend, so everyone is affected.’
April: Keeping the team together
‘It takes about four weeks for everyone to be settled somewhere. Most of the team is still in Ukraine, many of them relocated to the west. Many want to stay put because they have boyfriends and husbands who cannot leave the country. Some are still in occupied cities, which is a growing concern. There were a few people still in Kharkiv until not long ago – now there's just one girl there.
‘Everyone in our team is very involved in the company's development and motivated to work because we donate all our profits to the army – to our victory. They understand that whatever they do to help us grow will go directly to helping protect us. But, at the beginning, it's very stressful. This isn't normal life, so we say screw the goals and OKRs [Objective Key Results].
We do this for a couple of weeks but then see that with every win that we have at work, people get more motivated. Celebrating these victories as a team are some of the best moments in life. We can't win the war but at least at work you feel like you've helped people. So, we decide to set the goals back up because people's sense of accomplishment was helping them to fight depression.’
June: Focusing on what I can
‘Of course, we're very distracted and confused. I try to avoid the news. But I do read the facts.
There's a telegram channel I go through once a day because my mother-in-law still lives [in the east] and I have at least 25 people living there from the team. The right frame of mind is to think: what am I most productive at? I am useless with a gun. For me, trying to keep my company alive; giving people jobs; donating the profits; spreading the word – I spend 100% of my time on that.
‘We know that other countries have donated to Ukraine, but it doesn't mean that we should have to rely on those countries. We still have to give, give, give as much as possible. Since the war started, we've hired six people. And we're going to keep hiring and growing.’
How to help
If you'd like to offer charitable support to Ukraine, Aleksandr suggests donating via KOLO, created by a team of top managers, which provides vests, helmets and operational equipment to the military.
This article was first published in Courier issue 48, August/September 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.