Business When Your Country Is At War: Interview with Oleksii Tsymbal, Chief Innovation Officer of MobiDev

war concept

With the appalling news of war and destruction that is coming out of Ukraine, it is hard to believe that Ukrainian companies could continue to conduct business. Yet, as Oleksii Tsymbal, Chief Innovation Officer of MobiDev, explains, his company had secured the business and must continue working to support the Ukrainian people and their country.

We can’t thank you enough for agreeing to sit down and share your story with us today, Mr Tsymbal. First things first, what’s every day like for you right now?

The first thing in the morning is to check the news, with hope for a peace treaty, fewer casualties, and success for our warriors and politicians. After that, contact family and friends, especially those still close to the combat zone. This is the way morning starts for many Ukrainians, including me.

What was it like hearing the news of the invasion for the first time and what immediate steps did you take, both for your family and the company?

It was not due to the news that I understood that the war had started. I lived in Kharkiv, a city 30 km from the Russian border. On 24 February, we were awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of heavy bombardment over the city. Then an alert notification from MobiDev was sent to all employees with a recommendation to move to safety.

What were my first steps? We were not rushing, as we knew that our army would hold their position and give us time. By the way, Russians have had no luck capturing Kharkiv and other big cities even after three weeks.

I have two infant daughters, so morning routines were to be made. Later that day, we packed a few things, took our cat, and left Kharkiv with the aim of sending our family abroad. But it was tough to face reality, as we had hoped that it would never happen.

a russian tank
What is left of a Russian tank hit by Ukrainian forces new Kharkiv.
russian vehicles
What’s left of the invaders near the Kharkiv.

As for MobiDev, we had to be fast to follow our business continuity plan: notify people, confirm our reservations with hotels in Chernivtsi (a city 40 km from the EU border, where we have an office), start finding permanent apartments for employees with their families, and notify our clients of the actions we were planning to take. Since day one, our clients have been aware of what’s happening with each project team in the company.  

For people outside Ukraine, this ongoing war has progressed far beyond their worst nightmares. What does it mean to be in Ukraine at the moment and has the media been faithful in portraying it?

After sending my family abroad, I went back to Kharkiv as a volunteer to bring in supplies. Active combat was close to the city, and the Russians were using heavy artillery to bombard the city. Despite that, there was a queue to enter military service, but only those with prior military experience were being accepted. So many were disappointed by being refused. The Ukrainian forces have proven that the Russians are not strong. It’s just that there are plenty of them.

building in Kharkiv
Some buildings are seriously damaged and probably will be replaced after the war.
a bomb hit a school
Some buildings in the city are damaged by Russian artillery. Most of those buildings were never any close to military affairs.
Second Russian rocket hit the building of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration. 1 March 2022. 1 March 2022 By Kirill Gonchar

Despite the destruction, there was no panic, there was only readiness to do what had to be done. The city was full of volunteers delivering food and medicine to civilians hiding in basements. Public utilities were mainly functioning, and service workers were fixing all they could.

As for refugees, many decided to leave. All over Ukraine and further into Europe, strangers provide assistance to them. There are no refugee camps in western parts of the country or Poland, because locals are willing to take people into their homes. So, half of the country is fighting, while the other spends time and money buying and providing our army and civilians with equipment and supplies.

volunteer in kharkiv
This is what Ugen’s car looks like. He volunteers to deliver food and supplies to those in Kharkiv who can’t afford to buy it in local stores.
one of many volunteer center in Kharkiv
This is what a volunteer center in Kharkiv looks like from the inside. As they are decentralized and located across the city, locals help with labor.

We’re all standing as one nation these days against the death and horrors of the war. Brave, strong, and united with all the civilised world against the common enemy – that’s how I’d like the media to portray the war in Ukraine.

“The most powerful weapon today is truth,” you’ve stated. Could you elaborate on what you mean by this and why transparency, in this current political climate, should be front and centre for this war?

In 2014, we learned how information could be manipulated and used for propaganda. Today, if you watch Russian news, you can find that Mariupol, a Ukrainian city with over 400 thousand citizens, is a military target. The result has been no undamaged buildings left there. Hospitals and the theatre – a shelter for civilians – were also destroyed. That’s the power of propaganda.

I believe that when people know the truth about the war, they are capable of making the right conclusions. Even citizens in Russia can change their attitude if provided with information about what’s really happening in Ukraine. And it would result in action being taken.

As difficult as it is even to live through this conflict, managing a business on top of it seems nearly impossible. Yet MobiDev still has its doors open for operations. How have you made the impossible happen?

Since 2014, MobiDev has had a business continuity plan in place. It allowed us to get back to 95 percent of our operations in less than ten days after the war started. There were two priorities: keeping people safe, and securing our clients. We’ll face revenue losses in March, but they won’t be that critical. More importantly, we managed to secure our teams, keep delivering products to clients and fulfil our obligations on all accounts.

Following the plan before the invasion, we moved all the data and infrastructure to the cloud outside Ukraine, set up secure remote access for employees, launched a fully operational office in Chernivtsi and a front office in Poland. Today we are extending our office in Lodz (Poland) with engineers to make it fully functional. It will bring extra stability to our clients.

MobiDev office Chernivtsi2
A picture of MobiDev office in Chernivtsi. It is great to have a place to go for work.
Tsymbal in Chernivtsi office
Oleksii Tsymbal working from Chernivtsi office. My work, probably is the only intact thing that is left right now. Except for Netflix.

On 24 February, the day of the invasion, two of our Ukrainian offices were affected. So we had to relocate over 300 engineers together with their families and pets. The team did an outstanding crisis-management job. We supported employees 24/7 with logistics, legal support, real estate services, and finances during the evacuation and settlement process.

It was challenging to organise bus transfers, due to active combat, and find permanent apartments for so many people. But eventually, we managed to arrange the evacuation and places to live.

Today, many people have moved to our Chernivtsi office and our office in Lodz. Some went to other safe locations across Ukraine and Europe. And they are already back at work.

In parallel with securing people, we had to bring confidence to our clients. So MobiDev implemented daily updates for clients with transparent information on actions taken and people’s availability. Even engineering leaders have joined project teams to support the development during the first days. They were able to onboard in no time, due to the regular technical evaluations – a process the company implemented two years ago.

I want to thank our clients, US and European businesses, as they supported the company and people all the way. Not a single client has terminated our cooperation during this period. Moreover, a couple of days ago, we signed two new contracts for product development.

Running the company today is not just about business but providing stability to employees and their families. Moreover, MobiDev and most of our guys help the Ukrainian army and civilians with supplies and equipment, donations, volunteer activities, and some have entered military service. We are keeping our office in Chernivtsi, and will reopen offices in Kharkiv and Mykolaiv as soon as it is safe! We all feel obligated to support Ukraine today in the best way possible.

In your opinion, what more can the Ukrainian government do to accelerate support for its people at this time? What can the rest of the world do to help?

It is a hard time for Ukraine and the people. Still, our forces are fighting furiously, and we are fighting not only for Ukraine but also to protect Europe and its values. We’re the first line of defence here, as Russian ambitions lie far beyond our country. With its limited resources, our government is doing its best to achieve victory on the battleground and international arena, and to support civilians.

We are happy to know that most countries, many businesses, and ordinary people worldwide stand today with Ukraine. And we’re grateful for this support! Especially for sanctions against Russia and Belarus, as it is a powerful yet expensive weapon for our allies. On the other hand, it will save lives and force the enemy to negotiate and withdraw. Moreover, it is the way to prevent future invasions into other European countries.

MobiDev had implemented our own sanctions: we have not done business with the Russians since 2014, after they annexed Crimea. And now we’re not hiring employees from Russia or Belarus.

There are several steps that any business can take to support Ukraine and to show that there is no place in the modern world for such aggression:

  1. Stop working with the Russians and make a stand with your own sanctions.
  2. Ask your partners and vendors if they have joined the sanctions. It is a simple but powerful question to show unity against the aggressor.
  3. Work with Ukrainians. Many businesses in Ukraine have moved to safe locations and have secured their operations.

I’m sure Ukraine and its allies will eventually stop the Russian invasion and this war. MobiDev is ready to rebuild our beautiful country and continue to grow our business in both Ukraine and Poland.

Executive Profile

Oleksii Tsymbal

Oleksii Tsymbal, Chief Innovation Officer at MobiDev. We run a software engineering company with offices in the US, Ukraine and Poland. I’m a part of the business team and in charge of marketing and innovative technologies. I lived in Kharkiv, a great city that today is under Russian attack. So had to move to safety along with our Kharkiv office. Today I’m working in Chernivtsi, missing my native city and recently renovated apartment. But most of all I miss my family as I had to send them abroad, and my parents who refused to leave Kharkiv.


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