CEO by Day, Defender by Night

19 May, 2022

On February 24, residents of a number of Ukrainian cities woke up to the sounds of explosions. Russia openly attacked Ukraine. A few hours later, one could see huge lines next to the military recruiting offices across the country with those wishing to join the territorial defense – a newly established military reserve component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Executives of Ukraine’s tech industry are not simply watching from the sidelines while running their businesses. Many have also taken up arms to defend their country’s independence. Volodymyr Shevchyk, CEO of Indeema Software, is one of them. His company is focused on providing R&D services, development of complex IoT solutions, DevOps and AI (artificial intelligence) services. Instead, he grabbed a gun and joined a territorial defense battalion in Lviv. Volodymyr shares why he joined the defense forces, what it is like to be simultaneously a soldier and an entrepreneur, and more.

Life before and during the war

Before the war I had what you might consider a regular daily routine; business meetings with clients from overseas, taking my son to the kindergarten, playing music, going to the gym. But now I have become a soldier by night and a CEO by day. Instead of pursuing my hobbies, I’m patrolling a checkpoint.

From the C-suite to the military

It was early morning of February 24, my son woke me up at 5 a.m. with the worst toothache, five minutes later huge explosions were reported near multiple cities in Ukraine. It was then that I decided I had to join the territorial defense forces, the country’s volunteer force that was organized to resist the Russian invasion.

for-fb-indeema-4Sit by and doing nothing? I did that when the war with Russia began eight years ago, but now, as a full-scale war erupted, I knew I had to act. Although, as a tech leader, l can’t join the regular army, there are too many people that depend on me, I decided to join the country’s volunteer defense forces.

Joining the defense forces

It was hard to get into the military since I do not have a professional military education and training, instead I’d been studying programming until the age of 27, which is the current age cutoff for the army. However, I regularly went to a shooting club to practice my basic weapons skills.

When the Sykhiv district of Lviv created its own territorial defense, I became a fighter in this detachment. When you join the territorial defense forces, you need to learn different military occupation skills from handling various types of weapons, to combat tactics, to advanced individual training. After completing the training, I began to volunteer even more actively, because then I realized that our guys in the armed forces are not just soldiers, they are our heroes. We owe so much to them.

We were trained in combat tactics by professional military servicemen. The style, environments and fluidity of combat is very much like art. Just as it takes years to learn programming, so it takes a long time to become a professional soldier.

The commanders of the territorial defense detachment assign specific tasks to their teams, and officers can choose their own hours of patrolling on an individual basis. For example, you need to ensure that from 6:00 am to 10:00 am the areas are well covered at a particular checkpoint during a patrol. This allowed me to carry out patrol duties without delegating my CEO responsibilities.

How military culture affects personal and professional life

Military service expands one’s worldview and mind, and brings you a better understanding of the world and people. Our team cooperates with effective law enforcement leadership, this helps you to understand their principle of work, in particular, communication with people.

for-fb-indeema-3When compared with men in civilian pursuits, those in the military are more aggressive, talk louder, even shouting, but they understood we were just civilians and treated us correspondingly with respect. I think this strategy can be applied also in the real world. Case in point to any tech company that treats you like an individual. The tech world is as specific as the military, and we can draw parallels for communication with new people who enter our field.

Pivoting to the new reality

Within days of the war unfolding, our world had changed – and we had to pivot. The decision was quickly made to embrace the continuity plan, install Starlink terminals purchased by Lviv IT Cluster, provide financial assistance to employees with children who relocate abroad, and step up measures to support employees who choose to stay in the country. Three of our employees joined the territorial defense forces. We also have team members who’re in the military reserve. We’re planning to continue to pay them salaries once they are mobilised.

Assistance to Ukraine’s Armed Forces

Indeema has been supporting the army since Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan Revolution. We donated to Serhiy Prytula who introduced us to Taras Topola through whom we gained access to a producer of bulletproof vests, and since then we have been donating these vests to snipers in the armed forces.

A month before the full-scale war began, we started supplying one special unit with cameras, tablets, drones, and more. It is probably impossible to put an estimate on the financial value of Indeema’s assistance over the last eight years, but just in this ongoing February-March war alone we have contributed over 1 million Ukrainian hryvnia to the cause.

Indeema’s position is as follows: if we do not help the Armed Forces of Ukraine, soon we will all become refugees. Therefore, our priority is first to help the army, and secondarily to support humanitarian initiatives such as providing temporarily displaced people with bed linen, pillows and fresh food.

We are also committed to supporting refugees – we provided our office space for IT professionals who left Chernihiv, Mariupol, and other cities and towns for Lviv. A dozen of IT specialists relocated to Lviv from different regions of Ukraine and now work under one roof with us.

Work with foreign clients during the war

We are fortunate, we have continued as a company as much as possible considering the war and so far it has not affected our financial performance. We are in very close cooperation with customers, because we sell development entirely from the initial concept: we do the research, write specifications, make designs, develop architectures, and make plans.

for-fb-indeema-2No current clients have stopped cooperating with us because of the war. On the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion, customer reaction was mixed. Some were scared, some were worried about the project and our team, but everyone has supported us and continues to do so.

Probably one of the most supportive letters came from a client from Norway. He wrote that if some of our team can’t work full time, they will still compensate for the work in full, no matter how many people are on the project.

Business should operate during the war

War is not eternal. First, if the business stops operating now, it won’t survive so easily. Second, people need to work. The state will not be able to provide for everyone. Third, foreign partners will not support us forever if we do not generate income ourselves.

Finally, the war will end, we will win and the economy will have to be rebuilt. In addition, war also needs money. Lots of money. So you need to work.

What Ukraine will look like after the victory

I think after the victory we will all become more educated. We all used to live in our own little worlds, and now these worlds are very mixed. Therefore, our worldview will definitely expand.

I am also sure that the world has seen the reality and no one will confuse Ukraine with Russia anymore, and I expect that after the war we will have an economic boom. It will be another country.

What tech will look like after the victory

Tech industry is unique. Every crisis is an additional impetus to grow. The tech industry grew stronger in 2008, and also in 2014. Every global or local crisis gives a boost to the IT sphere.

Of course, now our sphere is going through war. There are difficulties, in particular, due to mental fatigue of the people. But in general, companies are working, new customers are coming. Moreover, there are those who are ready to support Ukraine precisely because we have a war here.

About internal resistance during the war

Our war has been going on for eight years, and this is enough time for you to learn how to adapt to it. Many people deceive themselves that there is no war. I was honest with myself, I understood what was going on, and went to a shooting club to study basic weapon skills.

Nowadays, I allow myself to dream about going to the studio to play music instead of patrolling, and I’m waiting for that day to return.

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