In 1991, a 6 year old boy moved from Odessa, Ukraine to the United States with his family following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Having now lived in the United States for more than 30 years, Igor Soshkin, President of Wattum, recalls his parents and grandparents saying how fortunate they were to have settled in America, that their children and grandchildren would never have to face such instability as a result of political disintegration.
In 2014, a new conflict erupted in the Donbass region of Ukraine, forcing many families to relocate from the East to the West. During this time, Igor Soshkin hired many great and talented individuals for his startup’s accelerator. The startup, Nice Capital, currently employs over 120 people in Ukraine, and much of this staff was transferred to Wattum in 2021 as the company grew. In the days leading up to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces in February 2022, we had already set forth plans to enable safe relocation and financial support for all Ukrainian employees and their families.
Wattum’s C Levels are primarily located in the United States, the U.K., and other parts of the world outside of Ukraine. Our development and IT teams, who are essential to the success of our business, are mainly concentrated around Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus.
As a result of the ongoing conflict, our Ukrainian and Russian employees are under insurmountable pressure; while propaganda aims to point fingers against one side or the other, the truth is that both sides are suffering. Russians are being discriminated against despite being against the war, and are watching their economy collapse as the world chooses sides. Ukrainians are watching their cities burn, their houses being destroyed, and are being forced to leave all they know and love in exchange for cramped and over occupied hotel rooms, where their entire family awaits next steps that are not yet known.
We have visited Kyiv, Ukraine many times over the last 5 years for a number of team building gatherings. A city no different than that of New York, it is difficult to imagine that it could be attacked by missiles and heavy artillery in the 21st century.
It is difficult to imagine that parents and grandparents were once thanking God that the new generations of their family would never have to experience 1991 or leave their country in search of a better life, and yet their children now watch their country suffer 30 years later. While children in the United States play safely at home on their iPads, game consoles, and other toys and gadgets, their peers abroad don’t spend their days the same way. Knowing that there are parents running for their lives with their children in hand is a disheartening truth that is difficult to grasp.
Our Relocation and Security Efforts
Inside preparations for Wattum’s efforts to relocate staff and offer suitable support, we rented out several apartments in the western region of Ukraine in the days leading up to the initial invasion, not yet knowing what the outcome would be but preparing for a worst case scenario nonetheless. We asked our staff that stayed in these apartments to complete daily check-ins to ensure they were alright, and had begun confirming which team members were in which city. What their individual plans for relocation were.
To lessen their burden, we took it upon ourselves to monitor the situation through daily updates from the ISW in order to better understand where military forces were actively moving to next. At first, the Russian military’s goal was to take Ukraine within mere days. However, when their strategy failed, they effectively switched to a strategy of destroying cities into submission. Once this strategy had been applied to Mariupol and Kharkiv, it became clear that everyone needed to move west before attempting to make their way back to their own cities.
It is not easy to convince an entire family to uproot their lives and move away from their home. We spent countless hours speaking to our team members, asking them to reason with their families and to get them to move. Many members of their families are elderly and have gone through war before, and would rather risk losing their lives in their home as opposed to starting all over again elsewhere. Their children, our team, are now forced to make the impossible decision of leaving them behind, not knowing the fate that awaits them, while themselves running into the unknown. Countless hours and multiple days; each conversation takes its emotional toll, and you are left feeling drained and helpless at the end of each day.
Borders are closed for men, and women refuse to leave without their husbands. With few opportunities for our employees to leave the country, moving simply defers the time before active conflict may reach them.
More than 3.6 Million Ukrainians Have Fled to Neighboring Countries
Today, our only hope is that the Russian government will exhaust its budget allocated for this war before reaching Ukraine’s westernmost region. We anticipate that the conflict will persist for between 30 and 90 more days as Russian forces seek to recruit foreign soldiers, and will continue to do all that we can to ensure the safety of our team. We will continue to make every effort to relocate all families to the west and, as soon as borders open, will try to help everyone that wants to leave Ukraine into a NATO country.
Despite our hopes for conflict to subside, members of our team and the people of Ukraine face adversity and active hardship. More than 3.6 million refugees have fled the country to date, and a recent trip to Ukraine’s westernmost region lasted over 17 hours. People were required to stand or lay straight on the ground for the duration of the voyage in order to make room for others. Even while attempting to flee, citizens are being attacked and their lives are at risk, while others are forced underground, praying and singing together in bunkers with remaining members of their community.
Our Ongoing Efforts and How You Can Help
We commend those who have never held a gun in their hands, yet chose to take up arms when they realized their home was in danger. When they realized that their families were at risk, they became committed to defending their home and stood to set up a second line of defense behind their country’s military.
Men and women of all ages have come together under the most tragic of circumstances and stand proudly against the invasion. Among them are Ukrainian celebrities, including lead singer of Ukrainian rock band Boom Boks Andriy Khlyvnyuk, singing for the strength of his people while outfitted in full military gear. Such bravery and patriotism helped stall the Russian army’s advance on Kyiv for more than 2 weeks as citizens hold tactical positions and aim to defend the country they know and love, through intimidation and resilience.
For these reasons and many others we cannot count, we thank our clients who have stood by us as we work to navigate the barriers that have been set forth by current events. As Wattum continues efforts to relocate our team and their families, we are also leading a donation initiative to help increase exposure of firsthand information from the site of the conflict, and to provide financial aid to those who need it most.
You can join our efforts by visiting Humanitarian Aid For Wattum’s Ukraine Team and reading testimonials of the invasion recorded by our team living in Ukraine, and journal entries recorded by a Canadian couple via email correspondence. The couple had been visiting their family in Ukraine and were able to document their experience during the first 5 days of the conflict, which set the tone for the following weeks of struggle and destruction. For those who wish to donate to our efforts via crypto, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your desired donation amount, and we will send you an invoice containing the crypto wallet address. We greatly appreciate all donations and kind thoughts, and encourage you to share the donation page and journal entries with your friends and colleagues.
Information, visibility, and compassion are our most valuable currencies, and together we can do what we can to support those affected by war.
President, Wattum Management