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The leadership team at customer success startup Totango was monitoring the tensions between Russia and Ukraine for several weeks. About two weeks ago, they offered to relocate their small Ukrainian team to Tel Aviv, where Totango has engineering operations.
Instead, most of its employees chose to stay.
“The team initially preferred to stay put and wait and see how things are going to play out,” founder Guy Nirpaz said in an interview from Redwood City, California, where Totango is headquartered. “It was also clear to me that the team would like to stay close to their families and they don’t want to be seen as opportunists, leaving Ukraine at this time of distress.”
Ukrainian venture-backed startups received at least $33.8 million in investment last year, per Crunchbase data, though that figure likely doesn’t capture many smaller companies and raises. Larger tech startups including Grammarly also got their start in Ukraine, and the country has emerged as a hub for tech companies around the world to source cheap talent. It’s home to an estimated 200,000 IT professionals.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, many startups have worked to help their employees in the country, where more than 100 startups have offices, according to Fortune. For Totango, that meant offering to relocate its team of about 15 to Tel Aviv, or another location of their choice.
But only two people ended up leaving Ukraine–one who had left ahead of time to avoid the winter, and a developer who left for Istanbul the day before Russia invaded.
Some members of the team wanted to stay put because they wanted to support their country, according to two employees who spoke with Crunchbase News. (We’re withholding their names to protect their safety.)
The situation was unexpected given that the relationship between Ukraine and Russia seemed stable for the past eight years or so, according to one Totango employee who relocated from Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv to Odesa in the country’s south amid the conflict.
“We didn’t move first of all because we are connected to our families, and also we don’t like to do it. Why should we do it? On our land we have our houses, we have our life and I don’t know why we should change it. A lot of people stayed at home … They can’t probably fight, but they do it to show they support our country,” the employee said.
The employee said solidarity with those defending their country was important. “Of course probably we’re afraid, but some things we need to stay strong and support because I don’t know if we all start to withdraw, what will our people on the front think about us?” the source said. “They need to protect us but they will do it much better if they know we’re staying firm and supporting them.”
In turn, Totango is looking to support its employees. The company created an emergency plan a few weeks ago. It hoped it wouldn’t have to use it, but executed the plan to stay in contact with employees and give them a space to collaborate, according to Amit Bluman, the company’s SVP of engineering.
“Besides the ability to provide financial support, there’s very limited options we can have right now,” said Nirpaz. “What we’re very much focused on is moral support to our team and their families.”
For employees in Ukraine, they’re feeling the weight of the situation in multiple ways. Some people aren’t able to access money from banks, one employee in Polesia said, and stores are facing supply shortages, according to the employee in Odesa.
“I think it’s a super frustrating situation, the team is very frustrated. … from our perspective it’s frustrating because we see them suffer and we see how little we can provide support for the team,” Nirpaz said. “We’re hoping the international community will figure a much more definitive answer to where we’re at with the situation.”