Israeli tech companies offer relocation plans, assistance to Ukrainian employees

Amid fears of conflict, Israeli firms draw from conflict experience to develop ways to help; tech outfits employ tens of thousands of Ukrainian developers, according to estimates

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

Travelers wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flights at the Boryspil airport some 30 kilometres outside Kyiv on February 13, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky / AFP)
Travelers wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flights at the Boryspil airport some 30 kilometres outside Kyiv on February 13, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky / AFP)

As tensions ramped up in Ukraine in recent weeks amid fears of a potential Russian invasion, Israeli tech companies have been putting emergency plans in place to offer various forms of assistance to their employees in the country to ensure their safety.

A number of Israeli startups and companies across sectors have extended offers of temporary relocation and financial support to employees and their immediate families in Ukraine, as drumbeats of war were heard over the weekend.

Eyal Levy, VP R&D of Israeli privacy and data protection company BigID, told The Times of Israel in a phone interview Tuesday that the firm has been following developments in Ukraine for several weeks, keeping in close contact with its 40 Ukrainian developers in various cities across the country.

“Until Thursday, no one was very worried and everything seemed pretty calm. But as of Sunday, things have changed and they became more concerned. The risk [assessment] was elevated from moderate to high,” he said.

Levy said the company launched a survey to determine the Ukrainian employees’ immediate needs. “We offered three options: relocation to other countries, a move within Ukraine to safer areas, and a mapping of which employees would host others [from areas in the east that could become dangerous], just like we do in Israel when there is war.”

A majority, he said, preferred temporary relocation to Poland or Bulgaria, according to the survey. However, most of them wanted to wait and only act if they feel there is a real need. “Just 5% have opted to leave right now,” and the rest are preparing and consulting with their families, said Levy.

Ukrainian servicemen survey the impact areas from shells that landed close to their positions during the night on a front line outside Popasna, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, February 14, 2022. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

Like most Israeli tech companies with workers in Ukraine, BigID works through a local firm to recruit and manage employees. But Levy emphasized that these workers were very much part of the Israeli company and were treated as such.

The local company “has a lot of experience from 2014 [when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine] so they know what to do and they know the areas very well,” said Levy.

“We wanted to come up with a plan that will align with the magnitude of the situation. It has been in place for months. We have plans for our operations across the world to enable business continuity,” he added.

Eyal Levy, VP R&D at BigID, an Israeli data protection and privacy company. (BigID)

BigID also has plans to offer satellite-based internet to its Ukrainian employees should networks fall in case of escalation, and transportation logistics should they need to leave quickly.

According to the tech-focused Israeli organization Start-Up Nation Central, there are several tens of thousands of developers in Ukraine who provide services to Israeli tech companies amid a chronic shortage of tech talent in Israel, specifically engineers and developers. “Over the years, Israeli companies addressed the shortage of tech manpower in Israel with different solutions, and today with the situation in Ukraine we see the immediate impact on the Israeli ecosystem,” SNC told The Times of Israel Tuesday.

Israeli firm Verbit, a hybrid AI-based and human transcription and captioning software company, works with 37 professionals in Ukraine, a majority of them developers on the company’s R&D team. This week, the company started launching various contingency plans as tensions on the border appeared to ramp up, said Ruth Ben Asher-Lavi, Verbit’s VP HR EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa).

Ruth Ben Asher-Lavi, VP HR EMEA at Verbit, an Israeli company that developed an AI-powered real-time transcription and captioning platform. (Courtesy)

Ben Asher-Lavi told The Times of Israel in a phone interview late Monday that a majority of the company’s Ukrainian employees work in the capital Kyiv, where the atmosphere is currently generally calm.

But Verbit is fleshing out specialized plans for each Ukrainian employee according to their needs and those of their immediate families, she said.

“We’ll cover rent and relocation costs, but we also have plans beyond a move, in cases where communication networks could fall, with IT support for communication hardware, and in case the banking systems shut down, so we can pay them and support them,” said Ben Asher-Lavi.

She too cited Israelis’ intimate acquaintance with violence and conflict, such as the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups last May, and the resulting understanding of what these situations require.

“We’re Israelis, we know what emergencies are. We wanted to create open communication [with the Ukrainian employees] and let them know that we are here, that we want them to be safe and we will support them financially,” said Ben Asher-Lavi.

She added that none of the company’s employees in Ukraine have yet asked to relocate to Israel “but if they do, we will certainly help.”

Central Kyiv, February 14, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Amir Glatt, co-founder and CTO of Israeli web design company Duda, told The Times of Israel that the firm currently works with 10 Ukrainian developers, also mostly in Kyiv.

As of Tuesday, two of Duda’s Ukrainian developers have taken up the company on its offer to temporarily relocate them, opting for Spain and Indonesia.

For Duda too, the options also include internal relocation to safer areas in Ukraine or Israel.

Amir Glatt, co-founder and CTO of Israeli web design company Duda. (Rafael Shahari)

“We’ll make decisions as the situation evolves. We’re offering support the same way we offer support to our Israeli employees, whether it’s because of conflict, or COVID, or other life events,” said Glatt, adding that the company’s Ukrainian developers are “great engineers, very dedicated, and part of the company.”

Asked if Duda was considering ceasing its operations in Ukraine given the current volatility, Glatt said that “as Israelis, we have to be sensitive to these kinds of situations. We have a moral responsibility not to discriminate because of potential tensions.”

Tel Aviv-based Duda employs roughly 230 people across the world, 100 of them in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli web creator giant Wix said Monday that it was offering its roughly 1,000 Ukrainian workers the option to fly to Turkey with their immediate families for at least two weeks in an all-expenses-paid trip, amid hopes tensions between Ukraine and Russia lift in the coming days.

Wix will cover flights, hotels, and food, according to the company. The Israeli firm also offered temporary relocation options to Poland, where Wix has existing operations.

Earlier Tuesday, Russia said it was pulling back some of its forces near the Ukrainian border to their bases, in what would be the first major step toward de-escalation in weeks of crisis with the West.

The move came amid an intense diplomatic effort to avert a feared Russian invasion of its pro-Western neighbor after Moscow amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders

AFP contributed to this report.

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