Early on 24 February Russian President Vladimir Putin moved to invade Russia’s neighbor Ukraine. It is also alleged that Russian government-backed cybercriminals have started to attack Ukrainian companies, banks, and government agencies.
As the US, the European Union, and the UK tried to figure out the high-level political response to this war between Russia and Ukraine, these governments moved to protect their own embassy staff.
At the same time, they called on employers to act to protect their Ukraine-based staff. One sector that hires a lot of workers in the country is the tech sector; this is because Ukraine’s educational institutions are highly focused on science, engineering, and mathematics.
Examples of tech giants employing staff in Ukraine are Google, Oracle, Uber, and Snap (the owner of Snapchat).
According to Business Insider, Google has told its staff in Ukraine to “shelter in place”, and limit their movements as much as possible.
A memo written by Matt Brittin, Google’s president of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, said that Google was watching the escalation of violence “with great concern”.
It is clear that Google’s security team is working closely with the Ukrainian staff to ensure their work will not be compromised by potential Russian government-backed cyber-attacks.
Uber, which is present in nine cities across Ukraine, said that it has paused operations for the time being. It shared with TechCrunch that it had offered employees based in the capital Kyiv temporary and voluntary relocation to other countries and elsewhere in Ukraine.
“Our focus continues to be doing whatever we can to protect the safety of Uber riders, drivers and employees. We have a cross-functional team monitoring the situation very closely and will restore service as soon as it is safe to do so,” Uber told TechCrunch.
Lyft shared a similar statement with TechCrunch. “Our priority is the safety and wellbeing of our team members in Ukraine.
“We’re providing financial support for emergency preparedness and for those who wish to temporarily relocate, increased time off, and additional mental health resources. We’re closely monitoring the situation and will continue to evaluate our response as necessary”.
Tech startups and the Ukraine crisis
It remains unclear if Oracle, Snap, and other big tech firms are going down the same route as Google, Uber, and Lyft at the time of writing. Smaller tech companies with a Ukrainian presence have been more vocal about how they are protecting their employees.
For example, Israeli-based software company Wix announced it had offered 1,000 local staff in Ukraine (and their families) temporary evacuation to Turkey.
Another example is San Francisco-based expert marketplace JustAnswer, which shared a lot of detail on social media and with media outlets about how it would be protecting its 252 employees based in Ukraine – this is approximately a third of its workforce.
"Every time the internet goes out, they think war started."
— Julia Chatterley (@jchatterleyCNN) February 22, 2022
It announced they would relocate workers, as well as handle administration linked with potential military service. JustAnswer made clear to the SF Chronicle that those in the military will be able to return to their jobs and would be paid 50% of their salaries during the military service.
In addition, JustAnswer has moved to provide flexible hours to staff so they can take training in civilian defense or first aid. Further to this, Ukrainian workers will get an extra two paid days off to allow them space to pack if need be, as well as been provided with satellite phones so they can stay in contact with colleagues, friends, and families amid power outages.
The CEO told the SF Chronicle: “We have to figure out how to pay folks”, particularly given Ukrainian financial institutions seem to be experiencing cyber-attacks that could damage the sector’s functionality.
“The current plan is to try to stock up on cash there in case we can’t send cash across the border. We’ve also got funds going to Poland (which is close to the company’s offices), so if we need to pay people we could go to Poland to get funds or have employees go there.”
He noted: “Unfortunately for this person, they can’t fly out, traffic jams everywhere, and credit cards potentially will stop working because of the local banking system being frozen. Thankfully we were able to wire money to their Divvy card so they can try to migrate to a neighboring country.”
Chiu called on other CEOs and employers to follow Catalyst’s example. He added that managers needed to accept the mental health implications on Ukrainian employees and that they must “accommodate” their needs – particularly around taking a break from work – in “every way”.
A fourth example is Grammarly, which was founded out of Ukraine back in 2009.
In a LinkedIn post, CEO Brad Hoover wrote:
More disruption is ahead in Ukraine – stay tuned to find out how things develop and how companies move to protect their workers, as well as their businesses.