For the last two weeks, Andy Kurtzig's days have been punctuated by emergency phone calls and urgent email updates from his team in Ukraine. Kurtzig is CEO of the San Francisco-based tech company JustAnswer, and 252 of its approximately 1,000 employees are based in offices throughout Lviv, Uzhgorod and Kyiv.
"My top priority right now is to keep them all safe," Kurtzig says.
Ukraine is home to 44 million people, including a community of roughly 200,000 software developers who work remotely for companies in the U.S. and Europe. According to one industry estimate, 20% of Fortune 500 companies have their remote development teams in Ukraine.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on Feb. 21, Kurtzig says that "every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed, I'm thinking about how to keep our people safe. This is a war. This is a crisis. This is an emergency."
Supporting colleagues in Ukraine
JustAnswer has had a presence in Ukraine since 2010 and has spent years anticipating a Russian invasion and ratcheting up employee safety measures since the Maidan Revolution in 2014.
Over the last two weeks, JustAnswer has worked to relocate employees and their families to safer locations in Lviv and Uzhgorod, paying for moving fees, rent on new leases, hotel stays and bus fare.
The company also committed to continue paying the salaries of any employee who gets drafted or chooses to volunteer to join the Ukrainian military during the war.
JustAnswer has employees in the U.S., India and Manila. Non-Ukrainian employees receive a daily update from their colleagues and are encouraged to donate to Ukrainian army and volunteer organizations through the business group Lviv IT Cluster. As of Tuesday, the donation page surpassed its $100,000 goal.
Kurtzig is also encouraging employees to write to their elected representatives to support the people of Ukraine through military efforts, financing, medical aid and refugee housing.
Kurtzig, who spent six months living in Ukraine with his family in 2019, sees his stance as beyond political: "It doesn't just affect people in Ukraine or Russia or Eastern Europe. This affects all of us globally. This is about democracy, freedom and opportunity. What we're doing is not just about JustAnswer or a few employees. This is personal."
People expect businesses to take a stand for Ukraine
As for resuming business in Ukraine, department heads take stock of their team's location, availability and internet connection every day to coordinate how to execute and back up their work. Kurtzig says it's important that business can continue to function and support the Ukrainian economy through the war.
People are watching executives and expecting action in the business world. In recent weeks, Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his research team compiled a spreadsheet detailing which companies have pulled out of Russia amid its attack on Ukraine, and which ones have stayed put.
"We have a history of seeing the value of business leaders affirming the truth and taking a stand," Sonnenfeld told The Washington Post. CEOs need peer approval and often try to avoid standing alone on issues or policies, he added.
For his part, Kurtzig remains committed to maintaining and growing a presence in Ukraine and encourages other business leaders to do the same. JustAnswer hired 87 people in Ukraine in 2021 and has plans to hire 180 in 2022. They've even extended three job offers since the Russian invasion.
It can seem like a tough balance, keeping a business running in order to provide employees a source of income and sense of stability through crisis. But at the end of the day, Kurtzig says, "the business will still be here. I have to make sure that the people are still here."
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