How did Russian invasion affect tech startups with Ukrainian and Russian employees?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its third week. Since the war broke out, millions of refugees have fled to neighboring countries and other countries in Europe and the United States. Since we’re now living in a global world, we’re more dependent on one another than before the internet.
The ripple effect of the war is already spreading around the world. The impact of the war is even more felt in technology companies. The question is how is the ongoing war affecting companies with Ukrainian and Russian employees?
In this piece, we want to share a story about how war has affected one EU tech startup. Bordio is an EU tech startup that enables users to create tasks and events at the team level or the project level. Below, Bordio founder Jacob Udodov shares the company’s story about how their company’s life has changed.
As a European IT Startup with both Ukrainian and Russian employees, after Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February. It was around 8 am in Riga (Latvia) when my wife woke me up with words: Get up, it started!
Being half asleep I asked:
– What started?
– The war! Russia attacked Ukraine. (she replied)
I instantly took my phone and opened our team chat. There were already messages from Ukrainian teammates like: “They started to bomb us”, “I hear explosions nearby”, “It seems like it’s everywhere”. People from different parts of Ukraine were telling the same things: Harkov, Kherson, Poltava, Kyiv. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought Russia could invade Donetsk and Luhansk, but not the entire country…
Interestingly enough, in that chat were also our Russian teammates, and they supported Ukrainians telling them they are so sorry and ashamed for the actions of their Country. They asked if they can do something to help Ukrainians. It was obvious that in our company no one supported the Russian invasion.
The next thing I did was write an official message to our Ukrainian staff. I asked them not to think about work, but instead work out their own safety and move to the west. Technically we gave them a paid leave until they reach the safe place. Several of them left their homes and went west on that day. One of them was a developer from Harkov. Later, when Harkov was massively ruined, he admitted, that it was the best decision in his life.
Those, who didn’t leave their homes, suffered from power cuts and internet connection losses. Obviously, none of them could work on that first days. All their thoughts were about the war, about their relatives, friends, homes.
So in one day, we lost our 6 employees indefinitely. However, we couldn’t afford to stop the business completely. Even though Ukrainian staff wasn’t working, we still had to provide services and make money to pay the bills and payout salaries. We needed to fill the gaps in the business processes quickly, so we brainstormed possible solutions and came up with 2 effective ways:
1. We contacted the rest of the Team outside Ukraine, explained the situation, and asked to work extra hours in order to help the company.
2. We contacted our ex-employees, who left the company in the last 12 months, and asked them to help us for some time.
Surprisingly all of them were supportive and agreed to help in this situation. So after a few days, we managed to fill the gaps, and the business was working again.
The other thing we did for our Ukrainian staff was to pay out the salaries earlier, so they could buy some food reserves or make their way to the west. It was important because in many cities the shops were becoming empty since there were no new deliveries (in the east of Ukraine). So it was the last chance for them to buy something.
The second week of March was a little bit easier. Most of the Employees already arrived at safe destinations and started to work. Of course, it was not as productive as it used to be, they still suffer from power cuts and internet loss, but at least a few hours a day they now can dedicate to work.
There were several problems they faced when moving to the west:
– In the east, all gas stations were overcrowded because a huge number of people were trying to escape. It was hard to fill up the car.
– In the west, it was very hard to find a place for rent since there were thousands of refugees.
– Several teammates were willing to leave Ukraine and move to Europe, but in the early days of the war, the Government forbade the men 18-60 years old to leave the country. So even now they are stuck in the country with their families and children. As a company, we could help them to relocate to Europe, but we can’t do anything, because of the laws.
Today we have 6 employees stuck in a country where is war. Due to the situation, they can’t work productively, nor leave the country. As an employer, I can’t fire them, because it would be a disaster for them. Some of them had already lost their homes, I can’t take away their jobs. There is no other solution, but to wait until the war is over.
Regarding the Russian employees, there were also problems. 2 of them left the country after the war started. Others could not receive a salary payout as usual, because the bank we used banned all the payments to Russia. As a business, we had to try several banks, before we found one, that still made payments to Russia.
This is quite controversial. As the EU and USA decided to remove some Russian banks from SWIFT, we suffer as well. Not only Russian businesses and citizens have problems, but European companies too. Even though our Russian teammates are totally against the actions of their Government, they are affected by sanctions. Since the war started we haven’t fired any of our staff in Ukraine or Russia. We all stay united and pray for the piece.