This spring break, my family and I are not packing swimsuits for our usual Hawaiian vacation. Instead, we’re filling suitcases with medical and safety supplies to help our 258 Ukrainian JustAnswer colleagues and the people of Ukraine.
Why would I bring my wife and three children to the edge of a war zone? After living in Ukraine in 2019, we all formed deep friendships there, so the five of us couldn’t bear to have a “fun” spring break vacation while our Ukrainian colleagues, friends, and the people of Ukraine are suffering. So, instead, we’re going to spend spring break helping the people of Ukraine and reinforcing in our kids the value of helping others in need.
We have three main goals for our trip:
- To bring medical and other supplies to help our team and the people of Ukraine
- To help the refugees at the Ukrainian border
- To help and promote the Ukrainian economy
We’re bringing medical supplies such as trauma/bleeding kits that include tourniquets and Quickclot technology, to help the men, women, and children who have been severely injured. These supplies are sold out or in short supply everywhere in Europe. We will distribute these trauma kits through one of our employees, a paramedic who has been on the front lines since day one of the war. We are also bringing diabetes supplies for diabetics who are running out of insulin. We’re going to help one person upgrade from old school insulin shots to an AI artificial pancreas like my daughter has.
We’re also bringing over 100 handwritten notes from U.S. school children to the refugee children. We’re also packing other safety equipment for our employees that are fighting in the war, like drones, night vision goggles, and body armor to keep them safe.
After the war began, many companies issued statements of support to Ukraine and condemnations of President Vladimir Putin, and a growing number have ceased operations in or with Russia. These are important and a good start, but sometimes the greatest moments of need occur after the popular sloganeering has died down. There is so much more to do, especially now. It’s a bit like when a baby arrives: Everyone crowds into the hospital bearing gifts and pledging to babysit, but two weeks later it’s just you and your partner alone with a colicky infant in the middle of the night.
In addition to these humanitarian goals, I have another important objective for this mission. As the leader of a business that has thrived over the past decade in part due to our talented Ukrainian team, I also want to spread a message. This war is about bombs and tanks, and it’s also about business and sanctions. By visiting, I hope to encourage other business leaders to not only boycott Russia, but to buy Ukrainian goods and services. That means hiring Ukrainian people and spending money in the Ukrainian economy. My company, JustAnswer, is committed to staying in Ukraine and growing in Ukraine. And, since the war started, we have hired six new employees in Ukraine and have plans to hire dozens more this year while most of the market is doing the opposite. The number of open jobs in Ukraine has crashed since the war started, while the number of applicants has grown.
It’s a critical time for all of U.S. business—particularly the tech sector, which has so successfully leveraged the IT and engineering talent from Ukraine—to take meaningful action to provide Ukraine with the support it really needs today. Here is what I recommend.
Focus on the safety and well-being of your Ukrainian team first.
That means thinking creatively and also listening to their actual needs, which may be different than you’d expect. For example, we are bringing bleeding kits specifically at the request of one of our employees, who has been serving as a paramedic on the front lines since day one of the war. And when we asked about other protective gear, we learned that the standard issue for those going into combat is fairly minimal. So, we did research into how to get body armor we could purchase and bring over in our suitcases.
Get creative on ways to monetarily support your Ukrainian team.
We had originally offered to advance the paychecks of our employees so they would have funds sooner. But our employees told us they wanted us to hold their payments in U.S. dollars in U.S. bank accounts for now, which provides deflation protection and is safer in case their banks suffered cyber attacks from Russian hackers or other service disruptions.
JustAnswer and our employees are pre-paying our taxes to support the government and pre-paying our bills to support the economy. We are also paying our employees who have been drafted or volunteered to fight (in addition to the military salaries they receive). While most of the Ukrainian economy is stalled, the IT sector is trying to keep the economy going, but they need our help.
Support businesses that are helping Ukraine in actions as well as words.
If you’re a business, then hire more Ukrainians either directly or through one of the freelance or consulting platforms such as Upwork. You might also find help and referrals through local trade organizations such as Lviv IT Cluster, a community of IT companies, authorities, and educational institutions that promote the tech sector in Ukraine.
Leading by example and with empathy to support humanity, democracy, and economic opportunity is what I hope my own children—and many of my business peers—will take away from this spring break trip. Because this is precisely the moment where U.S. businesses and the tech sector in particular can and should step up, get creative, and move beyond promises and pledges.
Andy Kurtzig is the founder and CEO of JustAnswer, a platform that connects people with experts such as doctors, accountants, lawyers and veterinarians for immediate online help.