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What’s it like to be a tech worker in Ukraine right now? Here’s what two local technologists have to say

Alexey Turchanikov and Sergiy Mosiychuk, two of Ukraine-based team members from Virginia's Infrascale, spoke to us about their experience and the responsibility of being a technologist in a warzone.

Alexey Turchanikov and Sergiy Mosiychuk, two of Infrascale's Ukraine-based team members.

(Courtesy photos, graphic by Technical.ly)

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in February, many of the latter country’s citizens had just a few days to form a plan on how to — and whether or not they should — flee.

But with a ban on leaving the country for men aged 18-60, not everyone could (or even wanted to) head for safer ground. Ukraine’s large number of tech and cybersecurity workers was certainly no exception.

Infrascale, a cloud-based data protection company that moved HQ to Reston, Virginia in 2020, has almost half of its technologists in Ukraine. Many of them were in Kyiv when the conflict broke out. Like many companies with teams in the country, Infrascale had to scramble to support team members during a situation for which few were prepared.

Alexey Turchanikov and Sergiy Mosiychuk, two of Infrascale’s team members currently located in Ukraine, spoke to Technical.ly about their experience — and the added responsibility of being a tech worker in a warzone.

How it began

When the conflict began unfolding in February, Turchanikov said it played out as a series of unexpected events. Many teated the potential invasion as a high-impact but low-probability situation, which left little time to plan or put a procedure in place.

At the time, Turchanikov said most of Infrascale’s Ukrainian team was in Kyiv and the surrounding area, so the majority needed to move out of the city. They really only had a day or two to make it happen before the situation got even more dangerous. To help, the company gave its Ukrainian team four months’ salary in advance and raised $100,000 through GoFundMe to compensate for relocation and any other expenses.

“The overall company message to employees was that, ‘Hey, we understand it’s a tough situation, forget about business,'” Turchanikov told Technical.ly. “You should take care of yourself and your families first.”

For Infrascale’s Ukrainian staff, though, February’s outbreak of war brought up various obstacles outside of personal public safety. While Turchanikov and Mosiychuk both noted that the company’s policy prioritized its team members’ safety, both took on additional duties as well. They simultaneously had to set up some framework to keep the business afloat, which entailed moving tons of important data because much of its internal lab data was located next to downtown Kyiv’s government quarter. Altogether, Mosiychuk said over 100 terabytes of data and physical machines needed to move to the Western part of Ukraine.

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Mosiychuk, who spearheaded much of the equipment move, also undertook the task of getting employees to safety. When the conflict began, Infrascale had about 62 staffers in Kyiv, with one outside the country on vacation. Mosiychuk took over the mobilization effort, securing apartments and condos for those who couldn’t leave the country.

“That was his side job, a sort of real estate broker to get everybody out of Kyiv,” Infrascale CEO Rob Peterson said.

A Day In the Life

A few months later, Turchanikov said that much has reopened in Kyiv with many politicians visiting. On the whole, it’s safer than the first 60 days of the invasion were. But it’s still a major war and crisis, and residents still have to maintain an income somehow, which means continuing to work even as everything unfolds.

“A lot of people around me, including myself — basically, work for them was a way to escape from the horrors and from going through their news feed every five minutes, scrolling through Twitter or whatever,” Turchanikov said.

At the same time, many are at work buying and delivering various goods for the army, including weapons (Turchanikov showed a pair of night vision goggles that had been 3D printed), and donating to organizations supporting Ukraine. With the need to manage these duties on top of everything, Turchanikov said he’s shifted his workday schedule largely to the evening. He finds the only time he can really accomplish anything at work is at night when it’s quieter.

But some are even more immersed in the war effort while also managing what they can at their day job. Infrascale’s VP of engineering in Ukraine, Peterson said, does a huge amount of buying and delivering equipment from overseas to the army. This requires driving all around the country and securing safe transport while also doing an exec-level job.

“Many folks are spending their work time 50/50,” Mosiychuk said. “Fifty percent by their work and the remaining 50% just checking the news for any emergencies, for any good or bad news. You have to have two monitors, one open to some news portal and the second with your job.”

Tech workers have even more to account for as they try to maintain their 9-5 gigs during an international crisis. Mosiychuk said that some who work in person lost their jobs, so many tech workers are highly motivated to stay productive and keep their salaried work.

This means that tech workers are also among the top donors to various charities, whether they help refugees or the armed forces. As people who can stay employed (given their ability to work from anywhere) and access to equipment and funds, Turchanikov said that being a tech worker in Ukraine right now presents both an advantage and a huge responsibility. The ability to be online and connected to the world, he said, presents yet another obligation: keeping the world informed.

“[Tech workers] all have friends all over the world,” Turchanikov said. “So it’s important to spread the word, talk with them and let them know what’s happening.”

How to move forward

Turchanikov said that he has no immediate plans to return to Kyiv, despite its relatively increased safety, since he’d be returning to an empty house with his family safely abroad. Mosiychuk returns for a few days to visit his wife’s family but will be sticking to the country’s western portion.

In the interim, though, both wanted to emphasize that the conflict isn’t over, and they won’t be giving up their outside-of-work tasks.

“The only way this work can finish is with the victory of Ukraine,” Turchanikov said. “That’s the only acceptable thing because if that doesn’t happen, this will happen again. There is no middle ground because that happened multiple times with Russia already, and they will not stop. So the only way you can stop this is through the Ukrainian victory and reclaiming all the borders.”

This, Turchanikov thinks, is highly dependent on support from those outside the country providing arms and funding. Even when the conflict eventually ends, rebuilding the eastern part of Ukraine will require a ton of time, effort and cost.

With this in mind, Mosiychuk said he only has one message to the rest of the world: to not lose sight of the conflict.

“My only message to people outside of Ukraine is just, don’t lose focus on this work,” he said. “Don’t stop talking about it. That, and continue helping. Even just speaking about this will help us. Just don’t forget us.”

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