As a co-founder, I never imagined that my employees would have to work under bombing raids or flee our city on a bike.
The main product of our company helps people from many countries learn Java online and become developers. Right before the war started, things looked pretty good for us. The number of users was growing, and we were working on a new product called Java University. We had ambitious plans: after the launch of the free version in China, the EU, and the USA, we started preparing the content for the paid version. We were also thinking about creating a platform that would connect students learning Java with mentors who can help them solve problems. We were considering attracting investments and expanding quickly and widely. All our ideas seemed so exciting, and the future looked so bright.
We had heard the news about Russian troops near our borders, and we were feeling tension and anxiety. But, as strange as it may sound, since 2014 (when Russia started sending its troops to the eastern regions of Ukraine and annexed Crimea), we have gotten used to these emotions and the danger coming from our so-called “neighbor”. We hoped for the best. None of us thought such madness could happen.
I live (I don’t want to say “lived”) in Kyiv, on the left bank of the Dnipro river. On February 24th, around 5 am, I woke up because of sounds I’d never heard before: shots or explosions. “Maybe it’s nothing,” I said to myself. But then came the next ones. I reached for my phone. The news was overwhelming: many Ukrainian cities under attack, missiles flying, bombings. It was the end of my plans for the day — and the beginning of our new reality.
During the next several days, I stayed in Kyiv and tried to connect with my colleagues. Some of them left the city for the villages in the suburbs; others were running much further. People were worried about money and the future. My employees kept asking me: what if I left? Would I be able to work? Would the company survive?
My wife was also asking me whether we should leave or not. I didn’t know what to do. But then our army shot down the cruise missile, and it fell one block from our house. So, we decided to leave Kyiv. My parents refused to go with us. “It’s our city, and we’ll stay with it,” they said.
After leaving Kyiv and finding a safer place, I had to act fast to keep the business afloat. This huge task required several steps.
We made sure our employees also came to safe (or at least safer) places. Today, every Ukrainian has a story: scary, tragic, and sad. Our employees do too. Some of their stories are very unusual. For example, one of our colleagues left Kyiv for Vynnytsya (the city in the center of Ukraine) by bicycle. In a single day, he rode 50 km, found a place to stay in some village, worked for several hours, and resumed the journey the next day. Ukrainians are unbreakable!
We did our best to provide all the devices people need to work. Some of the employees managed to take laptops from the office (luckily, we had some there). Several PCs at the office still are on, so our developers can connect to them through the internal network. The main infrastructure is in AWS, and the servers are located in Germany and the USA. So, our products are stable and work without any problems.
Most of our employees have been using mobile internet since the war started. Their smartphones have become access points, and it allows them to work.
Sure, there were some communication problems as our people were spread around Ukraine and abroad. For example, our designer is still in the village near Kyiv. She has a laptop, but the internet connection is awful. She found a spot with a slightly better signal — and has to go there whenever she needs to send or receive some files. And it often takes a long time.
Despite all the difficulties, we resumed work. We want to strive and continue paying out salaries even in these terrible circumstances. But because of the war, we lost a big part of our income. So, we needed new ideas. We met online and started brainstorming. Maybe the reason was the adrenaline rush, but we came up with solutions very quickly.
For example, we started a promo campaign with no closing date: 50% discount on our Java course. We are very grateful to all the people from Europe and the USA who are buying subscriptions. They help us support our employees who had to leave their lives behind and keep our company alive. Our biggest fear is closing the business we’ve put all our efforts and hearts in. Our old and new clients are saving us from the worst scenario.
Before the war, we were actively expanding to the Chinese market, and now we’re still pursuing this goal.
Also, we decided to launch Java University. Instead of 12 months, as we initially planned, we’re offering three months course, “Java Fundamentals”, with mentors’ support. We hope it will increase our revenue and stabilize our financial state.
We knew our people were experiencing enormous stress and wanted to help them cope. Our game designer is also an expert in psychology. So, to support our employees, we conducted sessions at the end of every meeting. Everyone could share their emotions, fears, and thoughts. It made people feel they weren’t alone and lowered their anxiety.
Today, all of us keep helping the country to fight. Ukraine must defend itself on two battlefields: physical and informational. We are trying to do as much as we can on both. As early as possible, we sent emails to our users in several languages (Polish, English, German, etc.) with information about the current situation and ways to help Ukraine. We assured them we’d continue supporting our products, so they could learn Java regardless of where they were. After all, we need to stay in business to rebuild the Ukrainian economy after our victory!
The response we’d gotten extremely touched us. Our customers from numerous countries were writing to us offering help. They even suggested accommodating our employees! It felt like our users stood with us and supported us at the darkest time. They gave us faith that we could survive, stay together, and keep our business.
Then, we focused our efforts on three projects:
- Donor.ua — his project accumulates information about blood donors all over Ukraine and coordinates the blood donating process. We’re helping them with the advertisement for potential donors and money collection. This organization needs funding, and we’re doing everything we can to attract foreign investments.
- The project “Ми поруч” (“We’re near”) — provides psychological support for children during the war. Kids are very vulnerable today. They may be scared of hearing sounds of alarm sirens, or explosions, staying in bomb shelters for days, seeing terrible things. This project connects children with therapists.
- Dostupno.ua — The project which purpose is to evacuate people with disabilities from hot spots.
Also, many employees join different volunteer projects by themselves and help spread the information about what’s really going on. Many of our team members are helping the army and refugees with medicine, equipment, etc.
Yesterday, we were developers, designers, and managers. We lived our ordinary lives: worked, went for lunch with colleagues, made Friday night plans with friends, and booked tickets for the next trip somewhere.
Today, everyone in our company is not just an employee but also a volunteer. We work to protect our business, our people, and our country. And we won’t give up until we win.