San Diego company helping Ukrainian employees stuck here and in war zone
For the more than 30 employees of Blueboard who are based in Ukraine, the reality on the ground is dangerous and uncertain. Among them is Katya, who is now living in an underground shelter with her boyfriend and dog.
"We’re so scared. ... Sorry. ... I cried. ... I don’t know how many times per day," she said as she broke down in tears.
Russia’s invasion has put everything in limbo.
"So dangerous — it’s so scary. When we go to ... second floor we hear bombs," she said, adding that her boyfriend has to be armed for even a simple trip to the grocery store, which is now is a life-or-death situation.
Not all of Blueboard's employees are stuck in Ukraine. For some, it’s the opposite.
Software engineer Anton Sukhonosenkoho said he was sitting on a plane to head home to Ukraine last week from a business trip with Blueboard, when passengers were told that they had to get off. "The personnel told me that the flight was canceled and the sky over Ukraine was closed, and I realized it’s a war," he said.
Sukhonosenkoho said his first thoughts were for his loved ones — especially his young son. "I was really feeling this guilt of survivor," he said. "I’m completely safe, and everyone else is under fire or fleeing, and I can’t do nothing to help them."
On top of that, he was now in a city with no connections. His credit cards and internet stopped working.
"I basically spent the night on the floor in the terminal of the New York JFK Airport," Sukhonosenkoho said.
He was finally able to contact Blueboard. The company immediately made plans to bring him to San Francisco, where it is headquartered, and found him a place to stay.
"I actually still can’t believe that this is happening to me. Right now many companies are saying: 'OK, guys, you’re on your own.' I feel like I am a part of a big family," Sukhonosenkoho said.
"It’s absolutely heartbreaking," said Kevin Yip, Blueboard co-founder and chief operating officer. When the company found out about Sukhonosenkoho's situation, management did not hesitate to help him and all of the company's extended work family in Ukraine, Yip said.
"The first thing we are prioritizing is: Are our people safe?" Yip said. He added that it is hard to wrap his mind around what employees are going through. He said he thought often of the good times they shared in Ukraine.
"I’ve been there — I was there hanging out, listening to music with our whole team — and just seeing the building blown up ... it just sunk in, and we’re in contact with the team every day, and just with some of the folks in Kharkiv that are still there, and it’s crazy," Yip said.
Blueboard has also set up a GoFundMe account to help. Nearly $30,000 has been raised from employees alone. The hope is that more people contribute.
For now, Sukhonosenkoho said he would continue to send aid to his loved ones and to raise awareness of the suffering in his motherland.
"I taught a number of people to say ‘glory to Ukraine” in Ukrainian," he said with a smile.
He has a message for his 12-year-old son, who is helping refugees back home with his mom.
"I wanted to say to my son that I love him and I am so proud of him," he said then, translating it in Ukrainian, and adding, "because he’s a tough guy."