Israeli Tech Firms Show Support, Embrace Ukrainian Staff
The missile attacks on cities and military bases began early Thursday morning as Russian troops rolled in from separatist-held areas in the east, from the southern region of Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014), and from Belarus in the north. The invasion of Ukraine has become Europe’s most significant ground conflict since World War II.
As the US sent increased warnings earlier this month about an imminent Russian invasion in Ukraine, Israeli tech companies thought of their Ukrainian workers and began offering relocation possibilities, emergency plans, and financial support. Many Israeli firms, like Israeli web development platform Wix, intel marketing firm Natural Intelligence, mobile marketing firm AppsFlyer, and data privacy and protection firm BigID helped to evacuate employees, paid for temporary relocation, and offered emergency grants for those who chose to stay in Ukraine.
The threat of war soon became reality. Meanwhile, Israeli companies, including Natural Intelligence, Wix, Walnut, and Seeking Alpha, drew from their own experiences in times of conflict and found ways to support their employees whether it meant meeting across the border or managing to send them their salaries early. Others, back in Israel, posted messages of solidarity and support on LinkedIn.
“For better or worse, we’ve learned to deal with dramatic world events in the past two years and it all comes down to priority and focus as the key elements in succeeding in turbulent times,” Karen Weissberg, VP Global HR at Seeking Alpha, tells NoCamels, “We’ve been planning for the worst since December, making sure critical projects are scoped and have coverage by developers that are not in Ukraine — and now we will execute accordingly.”
Across the border
This weekend, the number of refugees who have fled Ukraine for countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and others, skyrocketed to nearly 400,000, the UN Refugee Agency tweeted, including some 50,000 on Friday alone. Friday was also the day that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky banned men aged 18-60 from leaving the country, which made the whole situation even harder.
At least some of them were Ukrainian developers and workers employed by Israeli tech companies. In recent years, Ukraine has become what Globes called a “proxy” for Israel’s tech sector as Israeli companies found it increasingly difficult to find their own staff, amid a shortage of human capital. News site Al-Monitor suggests Israel relies on close to 20,000 Ukrainian employees. These employees make up several categories including those who work for large outsourcing companies that help Israeli companies, those directly employed by Israeli companies like Wix, Playtika, and Plarium, and those who freelance or are employed by local outsourcing companies.
Yaniv Orkabi, director of operations in Eastern Europe at Natural Intelligence, tells NoCamels that the Israeli-founded intent marketing firm had “dozens” of employees still in Ukraine when the invasion began on Thursday.
Natural Intelligence employs these developers on four key teams in the country. For about seven years, the company has employed development teams in Ukraine through Ciklum and 1xHub, which assist the company in a variety of offshore projects.
As warnings rattled the country, Natural Intelligence offered its employees up to $3000 in emergency grants, including $1000 for those who stayed in the country.
“Only part of our team managed to cross to Moldova or Poland. Last week, seven employees tried to cross the border. There was one woman and six men and the men were not allowed to leave the country,” Orkabi says.
Most of the Ukrainian team is from Dnipro, he explains, and many of them tried to move west when the invasion began. “They traveled from Dnipro to Lviv, which is something like 1,000 kilometers on roads that are not like in Israel. They are not convenient.” He tells one story of an employee who found out she was taking the 10-12 hour trip from Dnipro to Lviv by car with her husband, daughter, a cat, and a dog. “And when they got to the border, it was not so easy to get across,” he says.
And then there is the employee from the Kharkiv region, an area that on Saturday saw tanks roll over the city roads.
“Yesterday, she reported fighters and shooting in the streets,” he says.
Ahead of the invasion, “we gave our employees a few days of vacation so they could start the move towards the west,” Orkabi says. “And now, we try to speak to them every day,” he says, “We also try to connect them if we hear about companies and people who are traveling to specific borders that are open. I do hope many of them will at least manage to be in a calm, safe place or even in a different country. And maybe we can assist them there, too.”
Israeli development platform Wix, which has one of the largest number of employees located in Ukraine, said earlier this month that they had made dramatic efforts to evacuate of their 1,000 or so workers and their families to Turkey and Poland. Still, some of the local workers remained in Ukraine. As the situation turned dire over the weekend, Israeli workers from Wix went so far as to fly to Poland to meet Ukrainian civilians who were crossing the border, the company said. Polish and Lithuanian helpers also assisted by driving to the border crossings to wait for refugees.
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Wix CEO and co-founder Avishai Abrahami shared heartwarming sentiments in a statement.
“As more employees and families cross the border, our Wix team of volunteers are waiting with cars, hotels, local SIMs, virtual credit cards, and everything they might need. This multinational team has been working tirelessly, day and night, to help their colleagues from Ukraine. The amazing thing is that it’s not because anyone asked them to, they are doing it because they care so deeply.” He reposted the statement on his LinkedIn page.
“Wix Team members from Lithuania drove all the way to the border of Poland-Ukraine, and along with our Polish team helped the Ukrainian team and their families cross the border and bring them to safety. These people have never met before. I’m extremely moved and proud,” he said.
Salaries in advance
“We tried to make salaries available on Thursday because we were afraid that the banks would be blocked and our employees wouldn’t be able to withdraw money,” Orkabi tells NoCamels, “So they got their March salaries on Friday. It was one of the good things that we managed to do.”
Yoav Vilner, CEO of Walnut, a codeless sales demo platform backed by NFX and US football player Joe Montana, tells NoCamels that “because of reports of cyber attacks on the banks, we agreed with the employees that we could also transfer money through a non-state-owned banking app so that they would not get stuck without money during the war.”
Vilner says the company has seven employees located in and around Kiev.
“We offered all of that help. Not everyone took it, but the offer is still on the table. They prefer to stay inside Ukraine, they just move to different cities, more west. WE’re in daily communication with them in a Whats App group. They send us pictures of what they see from their windows and what they hear,” he adds, “With the onset of tensions in the Russia-Ukraine sector, we had a real concern for the well-being of our workers and their families. Walnut’s employees are the most significant factor in the company – the beating heart and the driving force behind the company’s success.”
Solidarity, my friend
Karen Weissberg, VP Global HR at Seeking Alpha, a crowdsourced equity platform and stock market news and analysis website, spearheaded the company’s initiative to provide assistance to the Ukrainian team.
“A few weeks prior to the invasion, when things in Ukraine started to escalate, we offered some people to come to Israel on a work visa. We then decided to offer a special grant to everyone on the team to use for whatever they wanted — stock food, supplies, take their families and travel west, or even to neighboring countries,” she tells NoCamels. “We’re in touch with them all the time, on a daily, even hourly basis getting current information about their status and well-being, if the connection permits.”
Most of the employees are still in Ukraine, Weissberg says, declining to disclose how many employees are still in the country. She says that a lot of the developers that work for Seeking Alpha are men that were not allowed to leave the country and most of them didn’t want to.
What has the communication been like? “Depends on the situation – they communicate as often as they can, but circumstances make it difficult as they get far from the cities, and when traveling away from the battle zones,” she says. “We’ve been helping in every way that we can, with days off and special payments. We also offered mental health services by providing a list of therapists they can reach out to and sent daily updates about transportation, border situations.”
Then there are the employees from Seeking Alpha located in Israel, who might not be able to meet their employees at the border or send them money, but still want to show they care. So they send messages of solidarity. A number of employees at the company changed their status on Slack, a team management platform, to the Ukrainian flag.
“The image is just how our Slack looks these days, as most employees added the Ukrainian flag as their status, a show of solidarity with our colleagues and friends,” Asaf Rothem, Seeking Alpha’s chief marketing officer, tells NoCamels.