‘Ukrainians are Built Different’: The Software Developers Still Working Under Russian Bombing

Volunteers labor at a field turned into defense center where stoves, bulletproof jackets, sandbags, barriers and anti-tank Czech hedgehogs are being created for Ukrainian soldiers in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 3, 2022.

Ukraine, under a full-fledged invasion from Russia, is home to 44 million people, more than a million of whom have fled the nation as refugees to escape the fighting. It’s also home to a big community of software engineers that work remotely for organizations all throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Those developers, along with other Ukrainian people throughout the country, are now being compelled to defend their houses and communities while sheltering from Russian bombs. But many are still continuing to remotely work for their jobs, helping the local military effort by day while sending in their deliverables at night.

“Yes our employees are submitting deliverables from a f—ing parking garage in Kharkiv under severe shelling and gunfire in the region. Amazing individuals,” Logan Bender, chief finance officer of a San Francisco-based software licensing company, stated in a story posted to Instagram on Tuesday by venture capital joke account PrayingforExits.

“We of course told them all deliverables are off the table. Nothing of you expected other than to let us know how we can help other than wiring money and getting their immigration process rolling,” he stated. Bender has been seeking to hire a defense service to extract his staff from the crisis zone under armed protection.

There were 200,000 Ukrainian developers in the country in 2020, according to Amsterdam-based software development outsourcing company Daxx, which states that 20 percent of Fortune 500 corporations have their remote development teams in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and its capital Kyiv have been under intense bombardment for days, with government structures, residential buildings and public places aflame or reduced to rubble, despite Russia’s claims to solely be targeting military equipment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 said his forces will engage in a “special military operation” to “demilitarize” Ukraine, which he believes is not a legitimate state, despite it being an independent country for 30 years.

‘These folks are their own armed guards’

As major cities across Ukraine face terrible strikes that have seen buildings turned to ashes, company leaders in the U.S. and Europe have expressed awe at their Ukraine-based personnel.

“Our lead front-end developer went to Lviv to his parents’ remote cottage 40km outside the city and is still submitting pull requests,” Eric Hovagim, CEO and creator of Los Angeles-based betting company Pogbet, told CNBC. “He’s returning to Lviv tomorrow morning to resume his work while aiding with the struggle.”

“These Ukrainians are built different,” Hovagim added. “No armed guard extraction necessary. These people are their own armed guards.”

An aerial picture shows a residential building devastated by shelling, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in the hamlet of Borodyanka in the Kyiv region, Ukraine March 3, 2022.

Maksim Levin | Reuters

One Ukrainian developer, who sought anonymity for professional reasons, described how hard it was to stay working among combat.

“It is very tough to focus on work when such things happen in your country,” the developer said, adding that he was glad to his employer for understanding his circumstances.

“I want to say thank you to anybody who is interested in my nation and who concerns about it,” he added.

“Everyone in my country is working for one purpose now. Every person in my country is struggling, every person assists each other … Thanks thanks to the whole world for your support.”

“We are fighting for our rights for the future and would accept support in any kind: medical aid, food, equipment for the army and volunteers, or just pleasant words of encouragement.”

Ukrainians in IT-related industries are also employing their expertise for the battle at home. Employees at a local digital marketing organization in Kyiv are assisting carry out cyberattacks against Russian entities in coordination with Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. A local Telegram channel dedicated to crowd-sourcing programmers to carry out cyberattacks against Russia has nearly a million users.

The U.S. and other European countries are deploying weaponry and defensive equipment to Ukraine. But amid worries of escalation with Russia, a nuclear power, NATO nations have made plain they will not send soldiers to aid with the war. Ukraine’s leadership is requesting a no-fly zone from NATO, which so far does not look feasible. As it’s not a member of NATO, Ukraine — outmanned and outgunned by Russia — is virtually on its own.

Still, military observers are startled at the extent to which Ukrainians fighting on their own have slowed the Russian offensive. But as Russian forces intensify their bombardment of the country, shooting missiles and dropping bombs on both military and civilian sites, many worry that far worst is still to come.

Alexandru Asimionese, co-founder of Moldova-based software firm Labs42, detailed one of his freelance designers based in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Lutsk.

“In the morning goes to get high-protein snacks to distribute to the local army. Late night, sends logo ideas. Always paid in crypto (through) Binance,” he claimed. Another start-up manager revealed that his Ukrainian partner was coming to Ukraine from outside to fight, and plans to continue working for her tech company when not fighting invaders.

Ukrainian-American Daniel Berezovsky is co-founder of Florida-based startup sMiles. “Our Kyiv-based dev aids regular people and the army during the day and tries to still finish work evening,” he recounted.

“Another friends’ company with an office in Kharkiv includes developers who grabbed up firearms and joined the city’s defense, while they relocated their families and kids closer to [the western Ukrainian city of] Lviv.”

“Similar stories all over Ukraine,” Berezovsky remarked. “Heroism on all fronts.”