Charter buses, payday advances, hotlines: how tech companies are helping their workers in Ukraine

Some tech companies have offered financial support to workers, set up helplines and arranged travel or accommodation for those fleeing the escalating conflict, according to interviews and company statements. A global technology company, Wix, planned for weeks for worst-case scenarios for its 900 employees in the country.

About two weeks ago, learning that Russia had amassed troops along the Ukrainian border, Wix asked dozens of his employees if they would be willing to move to Krakow, Poland, where he has an office. For the rest, it offered charter flights and hotel rooms in Antalya, Turkey.
Nir Zohar, president and chief operating officer of Wix, told CNN Business that 45 employees and 45 other family members accepted Krakow’s offer. Another 350 people, including 200 employees and other family members, traveled to Antalya. Wix (WiX)a publicly traded Israeli company that provides tools for users to create their own websites, employs approximately 6,000 people worldwide.

“A small number wanted to leave by their own means to other places, the others preferred to stay in Ukraine for various reasons,” Zohar said. “These people are very patriotic and they didn’t want to leave their home country…I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be a full-fledged invasion so quickly.”

More than 350 civilians have been killed since the start of the invasion and more than 1,600 have been injured, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced on Sunday. More than half a million refugees have fled Ukraine as part of the Russian invasion, the UN Refugee Agency said on Monday.
The conflict has upended what was once a robust technology sector. The IT services industry in Ukraine has over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies working with vendors in the country, according to at the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Amazon and Microsoft. The IT industry accounted for 8.3% of Ukraine’s total exports in 2020, according to to the National Bank of Ukraine, making it increasingly important for the country’s economy.
Ukraine also has a growing startup scene, with 126 startups having raised venture capital funding since the start of 2021. according to Pitchbook. And a number of well-known international companies have staff in Ukraine, including Apple (AAPL), Uber (UBER) and Snapchat’s parent company, Break (BREAK).

In recent days, CNN Business has reached out to more than a dozen major tech companies with operations in the country. Uber, which suspended car service in Ukraine in response to the war, said it was offering logistical and financial support to affected employees and their immediate family members if they voluntarily chose to relocate. Lyft said it provides financial support for “emergency preparedness and for those who wish to temporarily relocate, increased time off and additional mental health resources.”

Ubisoft, a video game company, said it had recommended employees the week before the invasion to take refuge in a place they considered safe and that it offered accommodation in neighboring countries as an option for employees. and to their families. It said it pays salaries in advance in case banking systems are disrupted, and offers additional funds to help cover costs, such as those related to travel and relocation.

“We have set up hotlines (…) and have set up an emergency communication system in the event of infrastructure instability,” the company said in a statement.

Microsoft said in a blog post Monday that it is “dedicated to protecting its employees.” Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted“We are doing all we can for our teams there and we will support local humanitarian efforts. I think of the people who are currently in danger and I join all those who call for peace.” (Apple did not respond to a request for additional information about its efforts in the region.)

For Wix, the Russian escalation meant acting on another part of the plan she started discussing about a month ago: moving as many employees and their families as possible to the western part of Ukraine, which which she thinks would be safer. In preparation, Wix pre-hired some bus companies and some employees took the chartered buses from Kyiv or Dnipro, while others drove alone. At the border, they were greeted by Wix staff members.

“We had more than 30 volunteers from our offices in Lithuania who took their cars and drove to the Polish borders … to help them [get] a hot meal, groceries, blankets, diapers, anything they might need. Set them up for a night’s sleep somewhere near the border,” Zohar said.

Just before speaking to CNN on Monday morning, Zohar said he received confirmation that another chartered bus, carrying about 40 people, had crossed the border into Poland. “There are still quite a few waiting in the border area because there are very, very, very long lines there,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is a group stuck in the most dangerous areas of Ukraine, which we really, really hope we can get out of at some point.”

As the situation evolves, so do Wix’s plans. For example, the company originally planned to keep its employees in Turkey for two weeks, but two weeks came and went this weekend. “Obviously we extended it because they can’t go back,” Zohar said.

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