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Resilience Amid Conflict: Maintaining Operations During the Ukraine Crisis

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When Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022, escalating the war that had started in 2014, the humanitarian and economic impacts were immediately profound and far-reaching. The invasion and subsequent attacks caused the widespread destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and critical infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies, severely affecting living conditions and access to essential services.

In the two years since the war began, thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, and millions of Ukrainians – forced to flee their homes to escape the violence – have been displaced westwards, with many seeking refuge in neighbouring European countries and beyond.

From an economic perspective, the invasion not only caused significant volatility in global financial markets, but it also severely disrupted global supply chains, only recently recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearshoring and outsourcing companies relying on skilled workforces in the region have faced particularly challenging times. So how have they managed to not only survive, but return to business as usual without any significant client disruption?

This is the story of how, by adopting the disciplines and methodologies they deploy for client engagements and applying them to their own situation, software engineering companies with staff based in Ukraine ensured that not only were they able to keep the proverbial lights on, but that customer projects continued without disruption.

All practitioners quoted in this article were interviewed on the condition of anonymity.

Preparations and immediate response

“Getting ready for these kinds of situations is mainly about two things: making a plan and then putting it into action, which is just basic good business,” says one head of services. “But it’s also about building a culture where your team sticks together and steps up when things get tough, working together to tackle the unexpected.”

In terms of preparations, advance planning was crucial, he explains. Before the invasion occurred, monitoring teams continuously assessed the situation, evaluating likely developments. For several months, those teams had observed a purposeful and deliberate build-up of Russian military forces, which unequivocally signalled hostile intentions. In response to that growing threat, his firm implemented comprehensive monitoring and rapid notification systems that would enable swift mobilisation and ensure that everyone was kept well informed of developments.

“Proactive communication was essential,” he says. “For someone leading a small team of about ten people for example, it was really important to regularly check in on everyone. A quick phone call every day might seem old-school, but it can make a big difference as it lets you keep your team updated about safety measures or if there’s an urgent need to get out.”

One company’s immediate response focused on guiding people to physical safety and extricating them from the most dangerous areas. Strategically, accommodations were arranged in advance at a ski resort in the west of the country, which wasn’t in use at the time, allowing the company to reserve numerous rooms in a safe zone.

With so many staff in Ukraine, it was critical to know exactly where everyone was, particularly in the early days of the conflict. The first night witnessed parachute attacks near Hostomel Airport, located northwest of Kyiv, in a district that was home to many of the company’s employees. Those employees had to move quickly to reach safety, with not all being able to evacuate immediately, resulting in some taking refuge in basements.

“It took some creative planning to ensure we had options for accommodations and transportation that would be cost-effective and available when needed,” says the company’s head of software & services. “Handling a crisis like this isn’t just about dealing with what’s happening now; it’s also about managing all the what-ifs. So we were always adjusting, trying to stay one step ahead of how things were changing, given the unpredictability of the evolving situation.”

Lines of communication

During the initial days of the crisis internet connectivity remained good, with cellphone networks operating most of the time. Ukraine has one of the largest and most robust 4G networks in Europe, covering 91.6 percent of the population. To ensure continued connectivity, many staff in Ukraine were issued with Starlink devices and briefcase-sized battery packs, so they could keep their laptops and phones going regardless of where they ended up.

Staff on the ground however, had to be attuned to the dangers of mobile phone usage, as a Kyiv-based Delivery Director, testifies. “People were afraid of switching on their devices because the Russian military would target areas where it detected a lot of mobile phone signals,” she says.

Despite this, her employers were able to set up a call cascade system, making sure that every manager had personally communicated with their direct reports within the last 24 hours. In addition, employees were encouraged to install the Balcony.ai app on their mobile devices, which allowed the company to keep tabs on where everyone was, send out warnings, and receive and respond to requests for assistance. Teams, comprised of volunteers from other locations, operated around the clock, responding to help requests and disseminating alerts.

Balcony.ai proved particularly useful in organising transportation, such as coordinating bus pickups for groups of employees and their families. And if someone was having difficulty reaching a pickup point, a bus could even be re-routed to their location.

“Balcony was a real game-changer because it let us chat with people in a specific area,” she says. “For example, as our employees were driving west, we could use the app at certain locations to advise them to proceed to a particular town where we’d arranged accommodation, or to alert them about any issues further along the route. This capability to send geo-specific information and target our communications to people within a designated area was invaluable. All the staff had to do was install the app on their phones, and most of them did just that.

“We didn’t stop there,” she continues. “We also created a Telegram channel, which was run by our BCP (business continuity planning) team. This was key because not everyone could access the company network or check their work emails, especially if they’d had to make a quick exit. Not everybody has work apps on their personal phones, and if you’re evacuating, grabbing your work laptop isn’t exactly top of mind. So, having Telegram meant we had another way to make sure we could reach everyone, which was crucial.”

Maintaining client confidence

One company put in place a similar system for keeping in touch with its clients. Account managers stayed in close contact with their client counterparts, keeping them in the loop about any new developments. These check-ins, even if they were quick, were about sharing the latest updates, noting any changes from the day before, and confirming that everything was under control. If something came up that could affect the client, they were informed right away. These one-on-one conversations were backed up with more official corporate emails, which went out every few days.

“What was really important was the direct line between our client account managers and the clients themselves, talking more often than they usually would,” says the company’s head of client services. “Instead of their normal weekly catch-ups, they were now talking every day to iron out any concerns. What we found was that our clients were more concerned about the safety and well-being of our staff than the work itself. They kept asking if there was anything they could do to help, and many stepped up with offers of support. This kind of generosity was mirrored by our partners, who were instrumental in providing support. The increase in communication seemed to spark a real willingness to lend a hand, with clients ready to do whatever they could.”

In many cases, client feedback throughout the crisis has been extremely positive with clients showing a deep level of respect for the way their nearshoring and outsourcing service providers have managed the whole situation.

“Often, business relationships come out stronger after a crisis, as long as it’s handled properly,” says one service provider. “Fortunately, our team did a great job at keeping problems at bay, which really demonstrated to clients that we’re a dependable, secure company to do business with, one that can support their growth. We might not be the cheapest option out there, but then you have to ask yourself: do you really want to go with the least expensive option for critical business services, especially considering the kinds of risks that have come to light?”

The importance of company culture

From the start, the most successful leadership teams chose to make the safety and well-being of employees its top priority. The P&L impact was a secondary consideration.

“Our company culture has always been about putting our people first,” says one senior director. “We’re in the business of creating not just profit, but also good jobs that lead to financial security and other opportunities, like travel and international relocations. This people-centric culture has been built over a period of years – it’s not something you can just switch on when there’s a crisis. But when challenges do arise, it’s critical for leadership to set an example and place the safety of employees before financial metrics. Those concerns can be addressed later.”

The conflict in Ukraine has affected everyone in the company deeply, he says. “With so many of our team members there, it’s personal—they’re our colleagues, our friends, the people we’ve shared experiences with. This connection goes beyond borders, stirring a collective desire to support each other. It’s this spirit of unity and solidarity that has grown stronger in our company, inspiring everyone to do whatever they can to help.”

“We have a strong sense of ownership in our work culture, which seems to be a legacy from our agricultural roots,” suggests the Kyiv-based Delivery Director. “Historically, Ukraine was primarily an agrarian country where each family managed their own farm and land, embodying independence and personal responsibility. This ethos has carried over into our modern work environment. Our people often approach their projects with a similar mentality, treating their specific tasks—whether it’s a piece of code or a system component—as their own. They ensure every detail is accounted for, understanding that their unique contribution is irreplaceable.”

Furthermore, in Ukraine, staff tend to forge close-knit bonds in the workplace, she says. “Colleagues often become friends and even like family, creating long-lasting relationships that extend beyond any single project. This creates a community where everyone’s work is interconnected; if one person falls short, it affects their friends and the entire team. Professionally, there’s a widespread belief that one must put personal feelings aside and fulfil their responsibilities, especially given the current situation with the war. The realisation that our clients’ trust is vital is deeply ingrained. If clients cannot rely on us, they may take their business elsewhere, leading to job losses and negatively impacting our economy. This awareness extends across all levels of seniority, with even junior developers understanding the importance of client satisfaction to sustain the business.”

Looking ahead

Companies with staff in the region are now much more sensitive to geopolitical risks than they used to be, says one head of BCP planning. “Looking back over the last twenty years of my career, I can’t think of any global political events that have hit the business world as hard as this,” he says. “Yes, there have been wars in different parts of the world, but they haven’t really touched Europe. And whilst there have unfortunately been major terrorist attacks, they demand a different kind of response from a BCP standpoint and tend to have a shorter duration impact. Our awareness of political and country-specific risks is a lot higher now.  We’re actively thinking about the different geopolitical risks, figuring out how to mitigate them, and how to manage the portfolio of risks we see, e.g. by not putting too many of our workforce in any one place.”

“All of our Ukrainian team members, both those in Ukraine and those who live abroad, have a very personal and direct connection to the events that have unfolded,” he continues. “Understandably, such events bring stress and extended suffering. However, the team has demonstrated remarkable resilience. They are managing the ongoing challenges, working either from the office or from home, based on their preference. Life continues in some form; it’s difficult for us to imagine what it’s like being in a city at war, but everyday activities go on. Restaurants and bars are open, and people are going out, maintaining normalcy as much as possible.”

He concludes: “No matter how carefully you plan, things always turn out differently in real life. It’s finding the right mix of solid prep work and the kind of team spirit that you can’t touch or see that’s been crucial for us. Thanks to this, the positive feedback received from our customers and the fact that they haven’t faced any hiccups in their business because of what’s been going on, is a testament to how we’ve managed the situation. Ultimately though, even the best preparation in the world won’t protect your business if you haven’t got the strength of culture for everyone to work together to succeed.”

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