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Why one Ukrainian tech company is continuing to run its business from bunkers and battlefields

Olena Burkenia of the Ukrainian IT company Lemon.io explains how the team decided to fight back by continuing to work (remotely from shelters) and volunteer. Everyone, even those on active duty, are still getting paid.

Why one Ukrainian tech company is continuing to run its business from bunkers and battlefields
Anti-tank obstacle defense at the Independence Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine March 9, 2022 [Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

On the 24th of February, every Ukrainian woke up to the news of the Russian invasion. Many of us were awakened by the heavy blasts of Russian missiles hitting airports, military bases, and other targets. Sirens, airstrikes, and panic all became a part of the new normal. 

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In a time of adversity like this, every person and every company is facing a tough choice: to fight or to hide. It is awe-inspiring how many have decided to fight.

How does a company fight military aggression? 

First and foremost, by taking care of its people. Many tech companies have invested time and money assisting their employees with everything they need: transfers to safer places, shelters, food, etc. International companies with offices around the world are taking in their colleagues from Ukraine and their families, providing them with all of the necessary assistance. Many, including the company I work for, Lemon.io, continue paying salaries to those who cannot work due to the current situation.

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And second, by keeping business running and donating profits to the army. In this time of trial, we have seen incredible teamwork from everyone. Developers and company staff continue to work between sirens and bomb shelter visits, on trains and buses, with the unstable mobile internet, in tiny rooms of temporary homes. Clients from Ukraine and all over the world offer help and support, and show incredible understanding toward all of their colleagues from Ukraine who are mobilized, unavailable, can’t work, or volunteer to help the army.

At Lemon.io, a Ukrainian IT company that connects European web designers to American start-ups, we decided to fight by continuing to work with those who can work (remotely from shelters), support, and pay the team even if they are not available and donate profits to the army. On top of that, everyone enlisted in the army/self-defense or volunteering gets their regular monthly salary.

It was an easy decision for us. From the day the company was founded in 2015, we unanimously agreed that we wouldn’t support the aggressor’s economy (Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014); hence, we wouldn’t hire developers from Russia.

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In February, as every company prepared a course of action in case of war, we have decided to pay our staff double advance on salary and start paying our developers twice a month (instead of once, as earlier). After the full-scale invasion started, our CEO Alexander Volodarsky announced that the company had some financial reserves and was ready to support its employees and developers. In addition to this, Lemon.io donated a substantial lump sum to the Povernys Zhyvym (Come Back Alive) fund and announced that all of the profits in February and March will also be donated to the Ukrainian army.

This and all of the previous steps are our small input into ending the war and bringing peace to Ukraine. 

We are so inspired by the many of our foreign clients who announced their intention to help Ukraine by donating funds and continuing payments to their Ukrainian developers from Lemon.io, even if they won’t work on the full scale due to the war. 

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But most of all, we are inspired by our very own colleagues, who became volunteers, translating articles for international media, delivering basic life-sustaining goods to people in need, assisting those who’d like to move westwards from the war zone, and doing their best to help their country. Here are a few of their stories.  

Eugene Lata is the chief marketing officer at Lemon.io. He already took part in the war in the east of Ukraine in 2014, was wounded, and returned to normal civilian life. This time, feeling a threat to his hometown of Odessa, he decided to join the Territorial Defense Forces to protect his home.

I am overwhelmed with huge pride for our whole country. Today, at the line-up, I glanced at our battalion and immediately saw a bunch of acquaintances from my old and peaceful life: a runner with whom we once competed, a girl from a mountain climbers community, an IT developer from work, a grandfather-neighbor. Everyone is here. Unfortunately, the war forced entire families to take up arms. I have a father and a 20-year-old son in my unit. There is a man and a woman who didn’t want to leave their dog alone, so they went to fight with their husky. All day long, volunteers bring us food, medicine, walkie-talkies, water, and Molotov cocktails. Right now, the whole country is united against the Putin army, and I am incredibly proud of us.

Though fully engaged in the military efforts, Lata continues to consult and answer questions from his colleagues.

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Alina Yaremenko is a recruiter at Lemon.io. Before the war started, she lived in the suburbs of Kyiv. After two days in war-torn Kyiv, Yaremenko learned that her relatives were fleeing and joined them to escape west.

Now, in the west, we are living in a dormitory. Kind local people fed us. It was the most delicious borsch in my life. How is life right now? I have a bed and a minimum of personal hygiene items. Not much, but I’m trying to work, at least somehow. Sometimes, we run and hide in a bomb shelter. I am very worried about people in Kyiv and Kharkiv, so I do not complain.

I work with iterations and try to stay in touch constantly in case of an emergency. I spend a few hours making calls, and I stretch everything else for the whole day in small parts. As I am at the computer and have time for written work I do it. I often work from my phone. It’s not difficult to answer a LinkedIn message if there is an internet connection. I can’t call my work super-successful right now, but I’m trying because we need to recruit and hire freelancers, especially since we have clients who offer them jobs.”

Elena Fabrykant is the content outreacher at Lemon.io. Before the war she lived in Kyiv.

On Thursday, February 24, at 5 a.m., I was awakened by my sister’s call and her words ‘war.’ I began to monitor the news, trying to understand what was happening and what to do. Finally, in the evening a couple of hours before the curfew, I decided to go by car, picking up an acquaintance. It was scary, incomprehensible, and very difficult without sleep and rest.

Due to sirens and constant anxiety, I could neither eat, nor sleep, nor do anything useful and worthwhile. Right now, I’m in a small town in Western Ukraine with my mother and my friend’s family. I don’t know what will happen next. I donate money to the army and to local initiatives that collect funds for army ammunition. I helped translate a chatbot from English to Ukrainian about how to get refugee status in different countries. I also try writing to friends and relatives abroad, looking for those who could help purchase army ammunition that is needed. My days are a mess. I don’t get nearly as much done as I would like to. I work long hours and work until late at night.

Marta Dzesa is the head of performance marketing at Lemon.io. Before the war, she and her family had just moved to Lviv. However, she decided to relocate to a village nearby.

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We decided that it would be a little safer for the children to stay away from the big city. We came to stay with relatives. There are four families in our house right now. We share chores, child care, anxiety, and work. Our morning starts with the news. After that, classic household chores: feeding children, eating ourselves, getting kids ready for a walk, getting some fresh air. I spend all of my “free” time on work. There is no schedule. I am able to focus on managing advertising campaigns and establishing a continuous flow of potential customers and developers for Lemon.io only late at night when the children are already asleep. My acquaintances and other refugees now live in our apartment in Lviv. Some stay for the night, some for longer.

Anvar Azizov is the CTO at Lemon.io. He used to live in Kyiv. When the war began, he had to flee to a western city with his family. Though displaced, Azizov continues to take care of everything related to the development and maintenance of all our systems.

First of all, I am now focusing on the stability of all systems and sites, and second, the development of new functionality, as far as it is possible. Besides work, I volunteer in different ways: I donate money for various needs to the charity fund Povernys’ Zhyvym, for military medicine, thermal imagers, Molotov cocktails, other local initiatives. I coordinated with other volunteers and organized the purchase and transfer from the western city of Ukraine sets of thermal clothing and military footwear for the Kyiv Territorial Defense. I run DDOS attacks on enemy sites. Whenever I can, I spread some important information. I also report hostile accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Telegram. Oh, and, yesterday I donated my drone for the military. Most of my volunteering is done on my computer, so I work for a few hours, and volunteer for a few hours, then work again. Just a few times I had to travel somewhere to buy equipment.

Dmytro Mamontov is the creative copywriter at Lemon.io. Before the war began, he lived with his wife, two daughters, and a cat in Kotsiubynske, a suburb of Kyiv. As the intense fighting began, he relocated to a western city with his family. Since that city is pretty close to the Belarusian border, Mamontov decided to send his family to neighboring Poland. He is working right now on ideas for Facebook and Google ads, as well as for original pieces of content for different communication channels, but says that thinking of creative ideas isn’t such an easy task right now. Most days he helps local volunteers and local defense troops during the day and works in the evenings.

People are very active and supportive here. It reminds me of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, where everyone supported everyone. There are so many people willing to help that very often they lack actual work, but they keep on coming and asking: How can I help? Even my daughters were making camouflage nets and I saw grandmas mixing Molotov cocktails. No one can defeat such a nation when the entire country is ready to fight like one body.”

Ukrainian businesses survive and fight in these difficult times by uniting and helping each other, receiving support from friends and clients, and by doing their part to support Ukrainian people and military. All of us are doing our part.

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Olena Burkenia is a content writer at Lemon.io.


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