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Make it Big Podcast: The Past Year in Ukraine
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On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. At the time, 106 BigCommerce employees lived and worked in Ukraine.
Product Manager Kristina Pototska and Product Designer Bohdan Hodzenko joined CEO Brent Bellm on the Make it Big Podcast to share their stories of what it’s been like over the last year in Ukraine.
Please be advised: This episode deals with topics that may be upsetting to some audiences.
Brent Bellm: You know, as CEO, I had no preparation for this. And I honestly consider this the most stressful thing that I’ve ever had to deal with as a CEO. And I also consider what our Ukrainian team has done to be the most inspiring thing I’ve ever witnessed in my professional career. So let’s turn over some questions. Kristina and Bohdan, on the day the war broke out, describe what you experienced on that day.
Kristina Pototska: “So on the 24th of February, that was just two days after I came back from the BigCommerce Partner Summit in Austin. So I had an awful jetlag and I went to sleep at around 3 am that night, and approximately at 5 am I woke up from a call from my friend. She was telling me something like, ‘Kristina, wake up. The war started. Pick up your stuff. We are leaving Kiev.’
“And through the sleep, I wasn’t able to understand what she’s saying because I just wanted to sleep really bad. And in a few minutes, I heard a huge explosion right near my house. So this is when I actually woke up.
“From there, I started texting, calling my friends, my family. My family was on the other side of the country, but they were all awake by that time.
“They all heard explosions because at that time the full territory was under attack. So since 5 am on the 24th of February, during the next three days, we were basically living in a basement because the full day it was just, you know, one really long missile attack alarm with some five, 10-minute breaks where we can get out the basement to go to get some food or a breath of fresh air. So that first three, probably five days, they were really, really hard. And after that, probably everyone started adapting because it was obvious that it’s not going to end in five days.”
BB: How afraid were you for your safety, Kristina?
KP: “To be honest, if you have so much adrenaline, you don’t actually feel that you’re afraid, you are mostly…your brain starts to figure out what to do, where to go. I was most worried for my family because they were really far away from me. And in general I was with my friends, so I couldn’t say that I actually felt that I’m scared.”
BB: And our office location. And just to give people a sense for how central we were in town, it’s only about a kilometer away from that radio tower that everybody saw being missile attacked in the first couple of days, correct?
KP: “Yes, exactly. But at that time, you know, news was going through really slowly. So right now, when something happens in a few seconds, you already know that through the internet, through different channels.
“But during those days, news was going through really slowly. So something was attacked. You have no idea what happened. And then in a few hours, you know, so yeah, with the office that was really scary.”
BB: People died right near our office and where you are?
KP: “Yes, Yes, exactly. Near the office, near the radio station.”
“To be honest, if you have so much adrenaline, you don’t actually feel that you’re afraid, you are mostly… your brain starts to figure out what to do, where to go.”
BB: Bohdan, how about you?
Bohdan Hodzenko: “A pretty similar experience. I woke up around 5 am from [the] sound of explosions.
“I lived not far from Bristol Airport, the biggest airport in Ukraine, and it was one of the military targets at first. The first day I checked the news, I understood that the worst case scenario had happened. And I called my brother and my sister. They lived in Kiev as well, and we decided to stick together and we decided to meet each other at my brother’s home.
“And I just went to my brother’s home. And when I arrived, he met me and we saw two military jets very close above us. Actually, we heard them and then we saw them because it was very, very loud. And we didn’t know if it’s our…which jets they are. And it was a scary moment.
“Then, we were at home waiting, checking news as every Ukrainian is. A day just permanently scrolling your feed and you know trying to find something good there. And in terms of the day we went to a countryside house where we were the next day. I remember a funny story from the first day I had 1-to-1 with my manager Eugene Polev sometime around 10 am.
“So quite early morning at the moment of biggest panic. And I wrote him like, ‘How are you? Are we going to sync today?’ We smile, you know. And he answered me like, ‘You know, if you don’t have any crucial, any critical moments, we can skip.’ Of course, we talked with each other and discussed the situation. And it was a good, good, good, positive moment of the day.”
This interview excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
Pablo Gallaga is a Senior Manager of Content Marketing at BigCommerce where he focuses on thought leadership content. His years of experience in tech, from startups to enterprise, inform his ecommerce insights.