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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: How are Ukraine’s tech community responding?

See the latest coverage of how startups in Ukraine, Russia and across Europe are responding to the war

By Alex Oscroft

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after weeks of growing tension, has shocked Europe. As soldiers and tanks pour into the country, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled over borders to escape the fighting.

Among Ukraine’s 44m people are thousands of tech workers, making up a scene that’s full of talent and budding startups with a global reputation.

At Sifted we’re reporting on what startups need to know about the war, including pulling together resources for helping members of the tech community in Ukraine and sharing the perspectives of those based in and from the country. 

We’ll be updating this page as we publish new reporting, opinions and analysis in the days and weeks to come.

What is it like in Ukraine for tech workers now?

Just before Putin ordered the Russian army to invade on February 24, we spoke to founders and investors in Ukraine who told us how their lives had been impacted by the build-up of troops on the border and the growing threats of war. 

Both Ukrainian startups and startups in other countries with staff in Ukraine had plans in place to aid their team members whether they decided to stay in the country or relocate. “Like any psychologist will say, if you’re worried it’s hard to rid yourself of it, and all you can do is have a plan,” Roosh founder Sergey Tokarev said.

But as the invasion began, many of those plans were thrown out of the window as President Zelensky banned men aged 18-60 from leaving the country. Efforts to relocate people to the west, away from the fighting, and into neighbouring countries like Poland, Romania and Moldova intensified. 

Though by then leaving the country wasn’t everyone’s plan: Swedish startup Beetroot, which has 600 employees in Ukraine, told us that many of them were offered relocation but said “that they wanted to stay and fight”.

How do Ukrainians feel about the crisis?

Ukrainian founders are spread throughout Europe and have led some of the continent’s biggest tech success stories, including Max Lytvyn, who founded the $13bn SaaS startup Grammarly in his native country before moving to the US; Vlad Yatsenko, a cofounder at $33bn British fintech Revolut; and Dmitriy Zaporozhets, cofounder of open-source development tool GitLab. We picked out them and 15 more of the leading Ukrainian founders, operators, investors and journalists to follow on Twitter for their perspectives on the war.

Lyubov Guk, a Ukrainian investor who was forced to leave Donetsk in 2014 for London, wrote of her optimism that Ukraine’s tech ecosystem would thrive despite the invasion, and called for VCs across Europe to hold their faith in the country’s startups even as they faced huge challenges. 

“The Russian invasion and the torrent of headlines create an economic embargo — and scare international capital away from investing,” she writes. “Don’t get me wrong, I understand the gravity of the situation and the challenges that Ukraine is facing like few others. But the international investor community cannot turn away now.”   

How can the European tech community help people in Ukraine?

The outpouring of support for Ukraine after the invasion has come in all shapes and sizes. If you want to offer more than money, we pulled together a list of ways the tech community can help. It includes:

  • Building digital services for NGOs;
  • Finding paid jobs for tech workers who are fleeing Ukraine;
  • Hosting refugees in your spare room.

We’ll be updating that list whenever we hear of new initiatives. (Do you know of any? Let us know at [email protected]

We also spoke to Sergio Caredda, an experienced HR leader who set up HR for Ukraine, which is collecting resources on topics such as relocation, counselling and legals for HR teams to support the people of Ukraine. He gave us some practical advice on how companies can support Ukrainian tech workers, such as:

  • Hiring temporary talent from Ukraine to support them financially;
  • Setting up safe spaces for Ukrainians who have left the country to work;
  • Working out what to do with employees who want to volunteer in the army.

How are startups responding to the war?

One Kyiv-based cybersecurity company has taken tech support to a whole new level: Cyber Unit Technologies founder Yegor Aushev has offered $100k as part of a “hackathon” designed to take down Russian websites. At launch, the campaign said that more than 500 people had already signed up to join the “decentralised cyber army drawn from the whole world”.

Meanwhile, startups have opened their wallets to provide money to Ukraine. Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky — who was born in Russia and has a Ukrainian father — has pledged to match donations to Red Cross Ukraine through his fintech up to £1.5m, while Estonian ride-hailing startup Bolt has pledged to donate €5m to Ukrainian charities while suspending operations in Belarus.

In Germany, escooter startup Tier and delivery company Sennder have both been collecting food, clothing and medicine at their offices to be taken to help refugees leaving Ukraine at the border crossings, while speedy grocery company Gorillas announced it would donate all delivery fees to Ukrainian charities. 

Flixbus, the coach operating startup, is offering free trips to Ukrainian refugees from cities near the Polish border, and said it had given out 2,000 free tickets within the first 15 hours. Airbnb is providing free, temporary accommodation to 100,000 refugees through its hosts, while also writing to the governments of Poland, Germany, Hungary and Romania to offer its help in facilitating longer-term stays. 

What do sanctions on Russia mean for European investors?

The EU and US responded to the invasion with a series of heavy sanctions on Russian banks, companies and individual oligarchs linked to the Putin regime. Dozens of companies, including Shell, Ford, Asos and Apple, have since suspended operations in Russia or cancelled investments in the country. 

In the light of that, VCs in Europe are re-examining their links to the country, particularly through the limited partners who put money into their funds. “The bottom line is these sanctions are truly unprecedented,” a lawyer told us. “Investors, funds and portfolio companies are all trying to ensure that they are complying with them.”

This week Sifted is donating half of its membership revenue to The Kyiv Independent, one of Ukraine’s leading English-language media outlets, to support its work. You can also donate directly to The Kyiv Independent. 

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