Maxim Ivanov left the northeastern city of Kharkiv when Russian airstrikes started on February 24.
He and his wife bundled their seven-year-old twins and pet cat into a car and headed west. The family eventually ended up in the central Ukrainian city of Uman. More than a month later, part of Ivanov’s life has taken on a hum of regularity as he continues to work at Aimprosoft, the software development firm he cofounded in 2005.
Uman is in a safe zone, Ivanov told Insider, but “it can still be a stressful situation because there is always the possibility of airstrikes.” He has been considering sending his kids abroad to get them away from the war, but he will stay on in Ukraine, where he services clients from as far as the US, the European Union, UAE, and Israel. Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are currently banned from leaving the country, as they may be drafted.
As the war in Ukraine progresses into its seventh week, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian IT specialists like Ivanov have continued to work in the country, keeping apps and services around the world going. While many are working from Ukrainian cities that are currently considered safe zones, others are still in dangerous locations.
Ukraine is an IT-outsourcing powerhouse, exporting $6.8 billion of services a year — about 4% of the country’s GDP, according to the IT Ukraine Association. There were about 285,000 IT professionals in Ukraine in 2021, servicing clients around the world, per the industry association.
It has also a prominent tech-startup scene. Online-writing assistant Grammarly and code repository GitLab were both founded in Ukraine, though both have been based in the US for several years. Other tech companies, like Estonian ride-hailing startup Bolt and neo-bank Revolut, have had staff based out of the country. Both offered relocation support to employees based in the country after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Insider previously reported.
In Uman, which is not currently in a war zone, Ivanov said the internet connection and bank services have been relatively stable, and they have allowed him to keep Aimprosoft’s operations going.
Ivanov is now working out of a hotel room in Uman.
The company has kept up with 50 to 70 projects, he said. One project was briefly put on hold due to security concerns that were eventually resolved.
“There were about three days of chaos at the beginning of the war, but we try to give support to everyone,” he said. The COVID-19 pandemic also helped employees adjust to remote work before the war, he added.
According to a poll by IT Ukraine, more than 70% of IT professionals are working from the safe regions of Ukraine. Another 16% — who are mostly women — have left due to the war and are working overseas, per the survey published on March 23. The survey covered 30 IT companies in Ukraine that employ 34,000 IT professionals in total.
And the survey shows that 77% of companies have retained almost all customers and contracts.
Some IT staff are working from cities where multiple air-raid sirens could be going off in a day, so they need to hunker down to work in bomb shelters, said Mikki Kobvel, the CEO of Kobvel Software Consulting, a Ukrainian company that has staff based around the world.
Konstantin Vasyuk, the executive director of the IT Ukraine Association, was speaking to journalists virtually from an undisclosed location with air raid sirens in the background, Computerworld reported last week.
“My employees do work sometimes from bomb shelters,” Kobvel told Insider of his Ukraine-based staff. “Even if you stay in the safe zone, which is Western Ukraine, you hear the air raid sirens at least twice a day, so it’s a routine to go once or twice a day. They go inside, stay there for one hour and then go back. So some people they don’t go out, they just stay inside and they just work from there.”
When Russian troops started amassing at the Ukrainian border late last year, some Ukrainian companies developed contingency plans to move developers from at-risk areas. Aimprosoft, for example, set up an office in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk a month before the war started. Most of Ivanov’s 350 staff members are now working from there.
And Kobvel said he is renting a safe house in Spain to shelter staff and other Ukrainians who need help on their way out of the country.
At Aimprosoft, programmers kept delivering on their work after a period of transition, one of the company’s clients told Insider.
“Obviously, they dedicated time to making sure that they were safe and their family is safe but I can only describe it as a mental strength and fortitude to just keep on working,” said Jordan Ellington, the founder and CEO of US-based SessionGuardian, which has been working with Aimprosoft for about a decade.
Ultimately, however, amid the uncertainties of war, some Ukrainian IT firms are losing business, Kobvel told Insider.
“Because of business risk, a lot of companies just cut down on outsourcing to Ukraine or are cutting staff,” Singapore-based Kobvel said. He runs a team of about 35 people, 25 of whom are currently still in Ukraine.
According to DOU.ua, a Ukrainian platform for IT professionals, job vacancies for various levels fell 40% to 80% over the three weeks after war broke out.
While Ellington said he intend to stand by his Ukrainian contractors, he also said he’s planning for any risk to business continuity.
Ellington said he has resources in other geographies and is thinking of nearshoring in Latin America, Canada, or the US. “From a risk management perspective, I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket,” he said.