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Ukrainian cyber experts who stayed behind to work and fight

These men I had the pleasure of talking to don’t get much time to rest, as they divide it between work and war, but keeping busy helps them to find relief from longing for their families.

Leaving Ukraine was never an option for Alexey Turchanikov, Sergiy Mosiychuk, and Andriy Bratiychuk. With war tearing the country apart, they, like many other Ukrainian men, are on standby and ready for combat.

All three work for the same data protection and disaster recovery company. Reston, Virginia-based Infrascale was on the brink of disaster itself, as half of its 121 staff were located in Ukraine, their data center just 200 meters from the parliament building in Kyiv.

“I look so exhausted because I was traveling all day today to Kyiv. Thank god, almost everything survived, except for flowers,” Andriy, vice president of engineering at Infrascale, told me in a video interview only an hour after returning home from the west of the country to Kyiv, where many Ukrainians have sought shelter from the fighting.

Millions of people, primarily women and children, left the country, while men had to seek refuge within Ukraine. Some of them are returning home and only now putting their Christmas trees away.

I sat down with Alexey, Sergiy, and Andriy, residing in Ukraine, and their CEO Rob Peterson, based in the US, to learn more about what they’ve been through these last couple of months.

Scouting for flats in western Ukraine

Sergiy, director of operations at Infrascale, tells me he was lucky, as he managed to leave Kyiv a week before the Russian army invaded Ukraine. He had a feeling at the time that something was about to happen. Sergiy went to his hometown, Ternopil, located in western Ukraine.

“It allowed me to take care of my team and folks with relocation to Ternopil. I have a lot of friends there, so I was able to do all the organizational work. I found a lot of apartments and was dealing with relocation. When the war broke out, it was almost impossible to find any flat to rent. Everything was booked,” he told me.

Ukraine map
Ukrainian map.

Alexey, vice president of product management at Infrascale, who didn’t share much personal information during the interview, added that Sergiy was able to relocate 20 families, numbering almost 100 people in total, from Kyiv to Ternopil.

“I was lucky that I found all the apartments and helped people move from Kyiv to Ternopil,” Sergiy said.

Stressing that it was crucial to keep business running as usual, he helped some coworkers leave the country. “The team is international. For example, a person from Moldova was able to leave Ukraine. Another has three children and was allowed to leave Ukraine. And we are just sitting here ready to take guns and fight,” he told me.

Business brain in the heart of Ukraine’s capital

When the war started, Infrascale’s CEO found himself in quite a pickle. He had to ensure his colleagues' safety and that the business wouldn't collapse, as half its staff and the virtual brain of the company was located in Ukraine.

"A missile strike near parliament would take down the entire data center. That data center has a helipad on its roof, creating an obvious target. We were worried that production would be halted if there was a strike," Rob told me.

Rob Peterson
Rob Peterson

"The lab situation and evacuation wasn't just some theoretical danger. The data center is located 200 meters away from the parliament building, so that was a very real issue, and we have customers all over the world, which we have to serve," Alexey added.

Infrascale's engineering team used the lab to work on new releases, bug fixes, and support cases, among other things. Within hours, the data was relocated to servers in the UK to ensure uninterrupted operations.

Another fear troubling the team was cyber-related. "There was a lot of concern about Russia taking more of a cyberwarfare approach to crippling the Ukraine economy. So far, that hasn't materialized the way we thought, but we needed to ensure that all our guards were up and there was no customer data on our servers in Ukraine," Rob told me.

But why are employees going to lengths to keep the company running when, it seems, there are more existential things to worry about?

Staying busy not to feel the longing

"Everybody understood that we had to keep the company operating because in these tough times, it's not just the company's survival, it's our survival too. Everyone's got a family. Everyone needs a job, and we are lucky enough to work for an international business where our source of income is not here, so it's not in danger of collapsing. We need to keep the business running," Alexey said.

With their families relocated abroad, there was nothing else left to do.

"A lot of our families are abroad now. I have plenty of time. I don't go to the gym, my wife and kids are abroad for three months now, so I have a lot of time," Andriy said, calling his daily routine a “work-war-life balance.”

Not far into the conflict, he was called up to join the army. He showed me his ID proving that he is an officer.

"My commanders gave me a uniform and a gun, but I said that I was a peaceful man and didn't know how to shoot, and I'm better with my management skills. So for over two months now, I've been serving in the Ukrainian army as a lieutenant. My main responsibilities are to manage the supply chain – find providers of any military needs, make the deal, and make sure that it's done," Andriy said.

He has already bought vehicles from Europe and is responsible for supplying the military with bulletproof vests, ammunition, vehicles, and technical services.

"I have a lot of friends and sponsors, so I calculated that I've already spent 60,000 euros. I collected money from people who wanted to share, and I was able to find necessary supplies and deliver them to the army," he said.

Andriy is serving in a military unit of 1,700 people, of which 300 have been sent to the front. At the time of writing, more than a dozen have been killed.

"You can make peace with any inconvenience, except being far away from your family. My daughter lost her first tooth. I had been waiting for that for a long time and missed it. My son started to talk, and I missed that too. This war took a lot of emotions and memories from us. I watch my kids grow over the phone. Not to miss them, you need to make yourself busy 24/7," Andriy told me, adding that he refuses to cry about it as he is a man and that would be inappropriate.

One of his colleagues, who was not on a call with Cybernews, decided to take leave from the company so he could join the army. Another is currently busy rebuilding his apartment near Bucha. "He was under artillery attack and lost hearing in one ear. His car and his home were destroyed," Andriy recalled.

Before the terror hit Bucha, Andriy's colleague was settling into his first apartment, located near that city. He spent his first Christmas there.

"Just two months later, everything was destroyed. Sergiy helped him to relocate to Ternopil. You can imagine how distressed he was. But humanity works," Andriy said, adding that the company has paid all of his colleague's expenses: he now has the hearing aid he needs, his car is being repaired, and his apartment renovated.

To support its staff, Infrascale has raised nearly $100,000 thus far, via a GoFundMe campaign to facilitate temporary relocation and resettlement. Rob told me the company is committed to maintaining full staffing in Ukraine.

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