A month before the war started, our company B2B Soft had mixed signals about what was going on in Ukraine. The best information we could get was that an invasion was not imminent. But my gut was roiling anyway. As a Russian refugee who immigrated to NYC in 1992, I did not have a great deal of faith in the Russian government.
We had built a team of well over 100 resolute IT professionals in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine with almost 3 million people. We chose Kyiv as an international location in the first place because of the talent of the people in Eastern Europe. In addition, politics mattered. Ukraine was democratic and gave people opportunities that we did not see evolving in potential Russian sites. And its status as a global tech hub would fit well with the emerging tech scene near our headquarters in Lower Manhattan. We did not regret our decision.
We put together a team that was integral and important to us. I traveled to Kyiv regularly and knew each one of them personally. We rolled up our sleeves together and found solutions for our clients in telecom retail to make buying a phone a faster and better experience. Our Training and User Success Team, comprised of many former teachers, and our Customer Service Team, brought us closer to clients every day from our brightly lit offices in Kyiv, a city with tree-lined streets and bustling people.
Ordinary as things seemed, my gut still bothered me. The Russians said they would not invade. I did not trust them. I obviously did not know whether a full war would unfold, but my gut told me to beware of a war. History gives all the reasons. Ukraine has seen so much conflict, driven asunder by the boots of armies through the ages.
And that alone was enough for our leadership team to decide to create a satellite office in Warsaw, Poland in January as tensions began to rise in the new year. In January 2022, we moved a group of key associates and their families to Warsaw to ensure business continuity.
On February 24, 2022, when we heard that the war had begun in a massive way, we were alarmed but not surprised. We started calling our team members in Kyiv individually, helping them figure out where they could go and stay in the Western part of the country, which in the beginning, seemed secure. But with rockets flying, nothing could be certain for long. Yet, it was our best and quickest hope. Through it all our team members continued to contribute to the business, finding ways to connect as they moved from hot spots in Ukraine to safer zones.
The entire firm stepped up to the plate, offering emotional and logistical support. Our New York account managers encouraged everyone in Ukraine to reach out to them for a friendly voice and not to worry about time zones, functions, or ranks. Management continued to collaborate with volunteer groups and others to ensure the success of the evacuations.
By March 6, we had successfully relocated most of our colleagues in the Kyiv office, ensuring transport to the West of Ukraine or Poland. Our HR team in Poland did not miss a beat, immediately coordinating the logistical and legal activities to help people stay there and to find housing and work.
But there were still team members in Kyiv who were reluctant to leave. They were either afraid to make a journey or did not have a place to go.
Unexpected alliances were formed in this difficult moment that during normal business times might have taken months. We connected with a global tech firm that was coordinating evacuation operations in Ukraine for their own associates. They agreed to help us.
B2B Soft team members were to rendezvous with a bus on Tuesday, March 8.
It did not happen.
But by Thursday, March 10, we heard that our people had gotten on the bus, and it was going to get through. We were not sure of the exact route or what they might encounter, but it was sure to be arduous. Simply driving from Kyiv to Lviv in Western Ukraine is 7 hours, not counting a war. By days’ end, we gave an enormous company sigh of relief and bid the tech company an enormous thank you.
Still, some of our team members stayed for personal reasons, including joining the resistance. Even though we are an American company, we created our first-ever Military Leave policy for our Ukrainian associates. Our HR Team in Poland continues to help where possible. Those who stayed behind have our complete support and of course, best wishes.
As the war rages on, it becomes clear to everyone in the world what our instincts told us—the war was never far away, and the grit of the Ukrainians would in one or another carry them through. We believe the Ukrainians will prevail, and Ukraine will become a stable country and part of the European Union. We look forward to the day when we can return.