Israeli tech firms run strategies to get Ukrainian teams to safety

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For years, many Israeli tech companies have relied on programmers and engineers in Ukraine to help build their products at cost-effective rates. Now, as their Ukrainian employees are in the jaws of the Russian military onslaught, those firms are running stopgap situation rooms and navigating complex logistics, as their Ukrainian staff and their families scramble to get to safety or hunker down amid the worst crisis the European continent has seen since the Second World War.

Nir Zohar, president of Israeli web creator giant Wix — which had over 900 Ukrainian employees before the war — told The Times of Israel that the company’s leadership convenes three times a day to check in with Ukrainian employees and discuss assistance strategies and plans for those who cannot or will not leave.

Zohar said the Tel Aviv-based company, which has about 6,000 employees worldwide, has been coordinating aid such as food, water and other necessities, and arranging transportation and accommodation for its workers, many in the capital Kyiv, who started moving westward when the invasion began or journeyed to a border crossing.

“We had 30 volunteers [Wix employees] who drove from Lithuania to the border [in Poland] to help those crossing with rides,” said Zohar. These Wix members were collected by people they had never met before, given food, clothes, a local SIM card, and taken to Krakow for the night as the company worked to set up long-term accommodation, he added.

“We also have Israeli workers who went to Poland to manage things from there,” said Zohar, of the firm’s operations on several fronts.

Zohar said Wix managed to “extract a fourth of our people” from Ukraine, in addition to about 200 employees who left for Turkey with their families before the Russian invasion.

At the R&D center in Israel for California-based customer success platform Totango, executives speak with Ukrainian employees periodically throughout the day, some of whom are hunkering down in cities under missile attack and threat of occupation.

“We check in with them 2-3 times a day to make sure they have what they need, see how they are,” said Amit Bluman, SVP of Engineering for Totango, from Tel Aviv.

Bluman manages a team of 80 people including 15 Ukrainian professionals “who are an integrated part of our team. The daily meetings with them became very hard, this is a nightmare for them.”

He began working with most of the Ukrainian employees four years ago when Totango acquired a local startup that also employed a team in Russia at the time.

A tech hub

For over a decade, Ukraine has been a popular information technology outsourcing hub for international companies.

Israeli firms have been working with tens of thousands of developers and engineers in Ukraine, amid a chronic shortage of tech talent in Israel, specifically for those roles, according to an estimate by Start-Up Nation Central.

Dr. Alex Coman, a lecturer, speaker and Israel high-tech sector expert, told The Times of Israel that Israel and Ukraine tech ties were “flourishing.”

“Ukraine has excellent programmers, the time difference between the two countries is minor, the wages are lower, compared to the US or India, and the communication levels are strong,” said Coman, who has sat on the boards of companies such as IBM Research, AT&T, Motorola, Intel, and Elbit.

Zohar, of Wix, said Ukraine has “super strong tech talent, they are super professional and hard-working.”

Ukraine was a “popular expansion site for Wix, possibly the most popular. Of about 6,000 employees, nearly a thousand were in Ukraine,” said Zohar.

Plans in place

For several weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Israeli tech companies floated emergency plans that offered relocation packages and various forms of financial support as Moscow’s looming threat was met with a somewhat tepid response on the ground.

But many companies including Wix, Totango, and others like property management software firm Guesty, data protection company BigID, marketing and events platform Bizzabo, transcription tech company Verbit, managed to relocate at least some of their Ukrainian employees before the first day of the assault last Thursday, moving them to other European capitals or helping them move from eastern and central regions to the west.

Eyal Levy, VP R&D at BigID told The Times of Israel a week before the invasion that about 5% of the company’s 40 Ukrainian developers and team members had opted to leave the country up until then with the rest staying put and monitoring developments or moving to cities in the western part of the country.

READ MORE at Times of Israel