Ukrainian Tech Workers Combat War Fatigue: Tired but Unbroken Amid Russia-Ukraine Conflict

When Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border and surged towards Kharkiv, Serhiy Evdokimov got into his car and started driving. “The city was filled with checkpoints and blockades,” he recalled. “I just stopped at any checkpoint and asked: ‘What assistance do you need? Hot drinks, tea, coffee, energy drinks, warm clothes?’”

Kharkiv, just 30km (19 miles) from the border, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting at the beginning of the conflict. Evdokimov, an engineer working for the Swedish-Ukrainian software company Sigma, spent those first weeks working to source and deliver supplies to soldiers manning the city’s defences, and to civilians sheltering in underground metro stations and basements.

As the defenders slowly pushed Russian forces beyond the city limits, he followed them, shuttling hundreds of hot meals a day from restaurants in Kharkiv to soldiers entrenched in forests.

Evdokimov was one of more than 700 Sigma employees based in Kharkiv when Russia invaded in February 2022. While he was delivering aid, the company was working to evacuate its staff and their families from the warzone.

They weren’t entirely unprepared. For months before the invasion began, the company’s leadership had done tabletop planning exercises, and built some contingencies, but the speed of the Russian advance took them by surprise, and meant the plan had to be readjusted.

The week before the war, they had booked a fleet of buses ready to take people out. “But once it started, the problem was the bus drivers refused to go,” Evgeniy Bachinskiy, Sigma’s head of compliance, who oversaw the evacuation plan, told Al Jazeera.

It took two weeks to get everyone who wanted to leave Kharkiv out of the city and into the relative safety of the west of the country. Some evacuees from the east slept in the company’s Kyiv headquarters. It was a chaotic period, but soon, the company was back up and running.

“All we need to operate is, you know, a person, an internet connection and a laptop,” Bachinskiy said. “Within two weeks, I think 95 percent of our people were actually operating.”

Many tech companies in Ukraine have a similar story. Executives who had previously focused on profit and loss accounts suddenly had to become experts in logistics and humanitarian relief, figuring out how to extract their people under fire and to keep their businesses running with teams that were scattered by the war.

By and large, they succeeded, and the industry not only survived, but thrived, growing against the odds, bringing in money, keeping people in work as the rest of the economy struggled, and directly supporting the war effort by pivoting to create battlefield technology.

As the war enters its third year, some of the gloss has come off that miracle. It’s become harder to get investment and clients from overseas, and the sector is suffering from brain drain and fatigue. But, tech leaders say, the resilience that the industry built in the early days of the conflict is intact.

“We are of course tired,” said Oleg Polovynko, a tech entrepreneur and adviser to the mayor of Kyiv on technology. “But we are not demoralised.”
‘A very high-risk country’
Ukraine’s tech industry was growing well before the full-scale invasion. A large, young, well-educated workforce made it a natural place for companies in Western Europe to set up back offices for software development and tech support. Local entrepreneurs built a tech outsourcing industry that worked with clients all over the world. The startup scene was buzzing, accumulating around new high-tech campuses in Kyiv, Lviv and Kharkiv.
Since the war began, global defence firms have flocked to Ukraine to invest in promising new tech [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]
The government, keen to recalibrate the economy away from Soviet-era heavy industries, created tax breaks and other business support under its “Diia City” initiative. According to data from the IT Association of Ukraine, technology exports nearly tripled between 2017 and 2021, hitting more than $7bn.
In 2022, even with thousands of its component companies working out of basements, on generators and Starlink connections, the industry actually grew. While Ukraine’s economy shrunk by nearly a third, its tech exports rose close to six percent. Global tech companies rushed to support the country, announcing investments, donating computing resources, and giving enterprise support. Many of the sector’s international clients pledged to continue working with Ukrainians, despite the risks.
“It was a shock for everyone; everyone wanted to help Ukraine,” said Iryna Volnytska, founder of SET, a tech-focused university in Kyiv. “Sometimes it felt like a donation, not business, but the response was huge.”

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