Workplace

'We are committed to Ukraine': Tech companies rush to protect their Ukrainian workers

Relocation, succession planning, data backup: Tech companies are in overdrive to protect their workers and businesses in Ukraine.

Passengers who arrived on a train from Odessa via Lviv in Ukraine to the railway station in Przemysl are standing in a line to buy tickets for the further journey. Przemysl, Poland on February 24, 2022. Russian invasion on Ukraine can cause a mass exodus of refugees to Poland.

The war has forced tech companies to quickly adopt plans to best support their Ukrainian employees.

Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Andy Kurtzig hoped this day would never come, but he’s been preparing for it for years anyway.

The CEO of JustAnswer, a company that connects people with experts online, has been hiring employees throughout Ukraine since 2010, and currently has 252 employees based there. “We had an engineer who needed help with a project, and he knew a guy in Ukraine and we hired that guy, and he did a great job. And then he knew a guy, and then he knew a guy, and so on,” Kurtzig told Protocol.

During the 2014 Crimean crisis, some of JustAnswer’s employees were drafted into the Ukrainian military. Kurtzig realized he needed a plan, and has spent the last eight years figuring out how to protect employees while minimizing disruption to the company’s operations.

Now, he finds himself in the unenviable position of teaching other leaders who have found themselves in a similar situation how to protect their workers and businesses. “Lots of companies are pulling out of Ukraine and fleeing Ukraine because of all this, and that’s exactly what Putin wants,” Kurtzig said. “We’re not going to flee and run away. Their job is safe and secure. We are committed to Ukraine.”

The tech presence in Ukraine is noteworthy. The country’s IT industry grew by 20.4% in 2020, the BBC reported. Grammarly was founded in Ukraine, and Google, Snap, Oracle and Ring all have significant Ukrainian workforces. The war has forced tech companies to quickly adopt plans to best support their employees at a terrifying time for Ukrainians, who are sheltering in subway stations and reeling from attacks that have already resulted in deaths.

Having a flexible plan is key, Kurtzig said. JustAnswer’s plan has varying tiers depending on the severity of the situation. Personal safety of employees is the most important consideration, so JustAnswer is covering relocation costs. At least seven employees have already chosen to move to western Ukraine to avoid Russia’s troops.

Relocation is in the cards for other companies as well. Wix evacuated employees to its offices in Krakow, Poland, and a location in Turkey. Lyft is also financing employees who want to relocate, and offering mental health resources as well as increased time off. Uber’s doing the same, and told its gig-working drivers to stay home. Ring didn’t share its relocation plans for employees with Protocol, but said it is “closely coordinating with the leadership of the team we work with in Ukraine.”

Grammarly also has deep ties in Ukraine, as CEO Brad Hoover laid out on LinkedIn. “Ukraine holds a special place in my heart,” Hoover wrote. “Grammarly was founded in Ukraine, and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know its vibrant culture and kind people over the past decade — that includes many of our resilient, unstoppable team members who are yet again facing stress and uncertainty.” Like Kurtzig, Hoover emphasized his dedication to Ukraine, noting that Grammarly is still hiring in the country.

Grammarly spokesperson Senka Hadzimuratovic said the company has a comprehensive contingency plan to protect employees and the business. “This includes, for example, securing backup communication methods and temporary transfer of business-critical responsibilities to team members outside of Ukraine to ensure our Ukraine-based team members can focus on the immediate safety of themselves and their families,” Hadzimuratovic wrote, noting that Grammarly’s data is stored on servers in the United States.

Big tech companies with a presence in Ukraine have, so far, been less outwardly vocal about their plans for employees there. Google, Snap and Oracle didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Tim Cook tweeted on Thursday that Apple is doing all it can for its Ukrainian teams and “will be supporting local humanitarian efforts.”



Workforce management service Safeguard Global is helping employees move into more remote areas of the country, as well as neighboring countries like Romania. CEO Bjorn Reynolds said the company is also providing access to mental health professionals.

Relocation is only step one when it comes to preparation. JustAnswer is backing up data on U.S. servers, working with independent internet providers and setting up multiple communication options. Kurtzig said JustAnswer is also considering multiple payment options in case banks freeze, such as paying employees through banks in Poland or, if that doesn’t work, cryptocurrency.

Companies also need to be prepared for military drafts. One of JustAnswer’s employees is already heading to eastern Ukraine to help as a paramedic. Others have previously been in the military and could be called to assist at any moment. JustAnswer will pay half of employees’ salaries if they’re called to fight, and will reconfigure positions to cover for missing team members.

“We can’t take on long-term projects right now with our Ukrainian folks because we don’t know what the situation is going to be in six months, let alone six days,” Kurtzig said. “We're trying to be as lean as possible right now.”

Kurtzig wants to do everything he can to help his employees — one of whom lives near the Lviv airport and has turned her bathroom into a makeshift shelter in case of attack. But the company is also focused on Ukrainians at large. In an emergency meeting Thursday, JustAnswer’s leaders decided to put together a medical care fund for anyone impacted in Ukraine. The company and Kurtzig personally will each match donations.

“It’s not just bad for our company or our employees or tech,” Kurtzig said. “It’s bad for democracy, it’s bad for freedom, it’s bad for stability. It is a very bad situation for the planet.”

Veronica Irwin assisted with reporting.

Workplace

Getting reproductive benefits at work could be a privacy nightmare

A growing number of tech companies are extending abortion-related travel benefits. Given privacy and legal fears, will employees be too scared to use them?

How employers can implement and discuss reproductive benefits in a way that puts employees at ease.

Photo: Sigrid Gombert via Getty Images

It’s about to be a lot harder to get an abortion in the United States. For many, it’s already hard. The result is that employers, including large companies, are being called upon to fill the abortion care gap. The likelihood of a Roe v. Wade reversal was the push some needed to extend benefits, with Microsoft and Tesla announcing abortion-related travel reimbursements in recent weeks. But the privacy and legal risks facing people in need of abortions loom large. If people have reason to fear texting friends for abortion resources, will they really want to confide in their company?

An employee doesn’t have “much to worry about” when it comes to health privacy, said employee benefits consultant Jessica Du Bois. “The HR director or whoever's in charge of the benefits program is not going to be sharing that information.” Employers have a duty to protect employee health data under HIPAA and a variety of state laws. Companies with self-funded health plans — in other words, most large companies — can see every prescription and service an employee receives. But the data is deidentified.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less
Enterprise

VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram: Edge is growing faster than cloud

The now-standalone company is staking its immediate future on the multicloud era of IT and hybrid work, while anticipating increased demand for edge-computing software.

VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram spoke with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: VMware

Nearly a year into his tenure as CEO, Raghu Raghuram believes VMware is well-positioned for the third phase of its evolution, but acknowledges its product transformation still needs some work.

The company, which pioneered the hypervisor and expanded to virtualized networking and storage with its vSphere operating environment, now is helping customers navigate a distributed, multicloud world and hybrid work with newfound freedom as an independent company after being spun off from Dell Technologies last November.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Workplace

What’s wrong with current Big Tech HBCU partnerships

Big Tech is still trying to crack the code on hiring more Black workers despite years of partnerships with HBCUs.

Pictured is the first cohort in Accenture's Level Up program.

Photo: Accenture

As a business major at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, Sean Johnson had been on track to work in finance after graduating. But then his adviser mentioned a program that the historically Black university had with Accenture and Microsoft that was meant to function as a direct pipeline from Prairie View into roles in tech. It changed his entire career course.

Johnson had always had an interest in tech, and the prospect of being able to get a glimpse into the industry, as well as gain real, hands-on experience, appealed to him. By the end of the program, he had a full-time job offer at Accenture.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Policy

We’ll be here again: How tech companies fail to prevent terrorism

Social media platforms are playing defense to stop mass shootings. Without cooperation and legislation, it’s not working.

The Buffalo attack showed that tech’s best defenses against online hate aren’t sophisticated enough to fight the algorithms designed by those same companies to promote content.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Tech platforms' patchwork approach to content moderation has made them a hotbed for hate speech that can turn deadly, as it did this weekend in Buffalo. The alleged shooter that killed 10 in a historically Black neighborhood used Discord to plan his rampage for months and livestreamed it on Twitch.

The move mirrors what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a white supremacist murdered 51 people in a mosque in 2019. He viewed the killings as a meme. To disseminate that meme, he turned to the same place more than 1 billion other users do: Facebook. This pattern is destined to repeat itself as long as tech companies continue to play defense instead of offense against online hate and fail to work together.

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a news writer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) and contributes to Source Code. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Latest Stories
Bulletins