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Management during the Martial law

In the previous article, I promised to write a blog about estimation as a sequel to the decomposition articles. I wrote a few paragraphs, and then russia started the war. So I, together with my colleagues, focused on a more important thing: safety.

Today it is more than a month since russia started a war with Ukraine, failing to capture Kyiv, the city where I live. Even though I personally and my family are safe and abroad, the first weeks were very intense.

I believe you have the same internet, and there is no reason for me to stop every war crime russia committed in my country. Instead, I want to write down things I did and keep doing during this time while it is fresh in my memory.

As I am not writing about my personal or civil life here, I will focus on everything related to our team and the topic of this blog, leaving other activities behind the scenes.

In this article, I will not use 'you have' and 'should.'

Acting in a time of conflict was (almost) a one-time experience for me, and I am confident that there is no way to make a pattern from it. And whatever you are going to plan and prepare yourself will be fucked.

Everything is fucked when you are under attack, and nothing works as it should be.

However, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared.

I cannot avoid mentioning huge, really-really important things that have been done on the company level; you can read about this in WP article.

Put on your mask first before assisting others

That is a god damn logical statement, which applies well to various critical situations, like a military attack on your country and city.

Anticipatory, together with the group of team leads, we slowly started to plan what we were going to do in case of a full-scale war or escalation. For those who don't know, Ukraine has had territories occupied by russia for many years now.

I predicted chaos in the first days and decided that I couldn't afford to be in the middle of it. I understood that I would be useless if the only thing I cared of is my family's safety.

Even before the company started the 'Business continuity plan' execution, I rented an apartment in Tallinn (a fantastic city and country, by the way), relocated our cat, and decided to live between cities.

The plan was to switch weekly or biweekly with my partner.

We can work remotely, but it is essential to visit our offices and meet people.

That goes for 'put on your mask first'; looking back, I can tell that it is one of the wisest decisions I ever made.

I collected and updated contact, emergency contacts, addresses, and relatives' locations for each team member, including myself. We did that company-wide, but I made a separate, more detailed list. We agreed to share it with each other.

We gathered in an emergency group in a non-work chat application and agreed not to mute it and post only important stuff. It was a month before the war.

And as I said, whatever you plan beforehand — will fucked, yet you have to prepare.

A fun fact is that the first message about the war came in that channel a few hours after it started: everyone was busy either trying to evacuate or helping others to do it. However, later we used it a few times for ensuring location and people's safety.

I explained to the team a few things in advance, way before the war started:

  1. If you want to move and work for a few months from anywhere, it is more than okay to do it. We already had some help from the company for those who needed it secured.

  2. In case of a full-scale war, there will be chaos, and yes, we will try to help everyone; however, you must develop a plan for yourself and your family because.. yes, chaos.

  3. Your first and only priority is safety, and no one expects you to work, deliver, and even think about doing anything except ensuring your safety.

Besides that, my colleagues created a plan where everyone in Ukraine was assigned to a compound by their location. Each compound had a leader and place to meet in case of a network blackout.

Leaders had members' addresses and contacts, walkie-talkies, and satellite phones.

Thank god we did not experience the need for those devices and donated them to the city defense (where we also have our colleagues).

When the war started, many of our people were on the move, either by our evacuation transport or independently. It was all mess again with compounds; however, this system helped a lot in the first days with quick communication: distributed networks rules!

4:55 am: "It started"

I took evacuation effort.

I was in a safe location and ready.

Beforehand we had an agreement and prepaid transport for evacuation.

However, it doesn't mean that buses were waiting ready around the corner and as I said many times: everything was fucked up during the war. And again, I will repeat that those preparations had a significant role eventually.

23.02 midnight, I decided to stay awake until the morning because the news was quite disturbing, and I felt that this might be the night.

I wish I were wrong.

The first day in Kyiv was full of panic.

Many news about saboteurs and rockets were bombing many locations; roads immediately became busy.

In advance, we defined a gathering spot for buses and people that might be less busy and good for taking the roundabout way to the west, which is relatively safe and has many borders with friendly countries.

We expected a few evacuation waves because not everyone would be ready to take a long ride during an unsafe time.

First weeks I almost hadn't slept, organizing and organizing: securing buses, making lists, and many problems that we were solving on the go.

We had 600+ employees in two cities; everyone has family, pets, friends, etc. We had buses and minibusses departing almost daily. All free seats we had we gave to relatives, friends, other software companies: whoever asked.

Our site in Lviv became a temporary shelter. On the way to the border or while seeking permanent accommodation, you could stay there.

All this was a massive work of many people and company management to make it all work. All the top management, together with us, haven't slept enough, haven't had weekends. If there is ever a crisis again, I wish to be around those people and company.

What I learned

As I told you in my posts before, holding the whole picture in mind and accessing all possible information is crucial. This is a weak spot for many team leads and engineering managers I met. However, when you see the picture, you can see the dots you can connect.

I cannot express how important that is; we managed to meet and evacuate further people from evacuation corridors from the outskirts of Kyiv; I cannot imagine the nightmare they experienced. My hands are shaking while I am writing that.

My role was small, connect the dots: a person with a car in the office and information that they might use those corridors. Things like that, maybe less epic, happens all the time, and you can react if you have a full picture.

Another crucial thing is to have the freedom to make decisions and sometimes the courage to make them fast. Once, we had a bus with people that broke 40 km from Kyiv nearby the shelled place before, close to the the military airport.

In less than an hour, having just a random phone number, we secured another bus that picked up our people on the road. I trusted random people by prepaying that bus, and I would secure another one the same way if that appeared to be a scam or delayed.

People's safety is the number one priority.

And one more thing. It is cash.

Even though our banking system stayed strong (actually, only that fact is worth being in the history books), cash became very important during the active war. Especially when you're dealing with transportation. We predicted demand, so we had enough cash, well-distributed between our locations. The fact that we secured enough of it eventually played an important role.

During the first three weeks of the full-scale war we evacuated more than a thousand people from less safe locations to a safer place: the west part of Ukraine or abroad. Employees and their families, friends, and people from other companies who called us.

Everyone who asked for evacuation has been evacuated. So today this job is done, and there is no demand.

Back to work

People started slowly getting back to work, which is another enormous challenge.

First weeks it seemed impossible, and no one even thought about doing work. Even when all the team was in relatively safe locations, scattered through cities and villages across the west of Ukraine, it seemed pointless to do anything. I was frustrated a lot about everything: doomscrolling news channels and chats.

Each night, usually late, we had (and still have) news about shelling, casualties, impossibility to evacuate someone's relatives or friends.

Even though our Ukrainian army demonstrates outstanding professionalism, the intense feelings are hard to describe: anger, hope, and hopelessness, frustration.

How to understand the war and enemy targets when our civil casualties are multiple times greater than the military? Today each of us knows or is related to someone dead or injured after a month of the war.

However, slowly but inevitably brain becomes back to rational.

Few concepts developed in our society:

  1. If you're not military, city defense, or volunteering in the field, the best thing you can do is to keep yourself and your family safe and as far as possible. So you and your family don't need to be taken care of.

  2. You have to pay taxes; the country needs it. Many of us paid our taxes in advance.

  3. We need to earn money for the country, as we are exporting services, and also we need money to donate and help relatives who temporarily lost jobs. The economy should work.

In addition to that, our president called everyone who could to get back to work or find a new job if needed. The government reduced tax policy for those who are in need to the minimum. They literally said: 'pay taxes if you can.'

But I see another critical angle of getting back to work: replace constant frustration and doomscrolling and keep your mind busy. It is the best thing software engineer could do in these circumstances for their mental health.

There are a lot of PTSD researches and care procedures, but I don't know much when you're inside of the trauma, right in the fucking middle of it. Maybe focusing on work is just a temporary solution; time will tell, but it kind of works, and it is the best we can get for now.

I am going to wrap this blog with one more critical thought.

As we started to get back, we attended meetings with people from all over the world.

And this time is like never before; we feel that the whole world supports us and wants to help. You should know that we are grateful, and it is very touching.

I am not a therapist or psychologist, but I'd like to have a few suggestions on how to talk with us right now.

We are all wounded, mentally bleeding right now. But we are also strong and brave.

It's okay to ask about safety and conditions; however, don't push it too much by asking about the mental state: it's complicated, don't make a drama, and if you care about your colleague's feelings — chat privately or do a private call.

Today people who never expressed any deep feelings could start crying right in the middle of the meeting because of too personal questions, and no one wants to be seen like this, and you would feel dumb, being the trigger.

Also, it is a terrible time to make jokes; even if you meant to be cheering, not everyone is ready to accept another putin-joke from someone who does not go through what we do.

I would say simply: try to be human and delicate as much as possible.


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