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All photographs courtesy of the subjects.
All photographs courtesy of the subjects.

‘Defend the Country, Defend the Truth’: How 16 Ukrainian- and Russian-Born Tech Workers Are Responding to a Nightmare

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has taken an incalculable toll on the families of expat tech workers. Here, 16 stories of anguish, horror and hope, told in their own words.

All photographs courtesy of the subjects.
March 4, 2022 11:00 AM PST

“My entire family is still there, in Kyiv,” says New York–based entrepreneur and investor Constantin Kogan. “When I’m communicating with them, I am feeling like this is the last time I’ll talk with them in my life.”

For thousands of people in the tech industry, abject fear for their loved ones has dominated life over the past week. More than a million people have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed an unprovoked invasion on a sovereign neighbor. Many millions more have stayed—either to fight, like Kogan’s father and half-brother are doing, or because they have nowhere else to go. The shockwaves of this humanitarian crisis have reverberated around all corners of the globe, but there’s a special resonance in Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs, which are home to thousands of highly educated emigrés from the former Soviet Union. (According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, nearly 25,000 Russian- and Ukrainian-born people live in the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas alone.)

Ukrainian- and Russian-born tech workers are grappling with the invasion’s effects in both their personal and professional lives. Some are helping out from afar—running humanitarian nonprofits; coordinating deliveries of gear like gloves, night-vision goggles, and helmets; and donating both dollars and crypto (Ukraine has already received approximately $39.52 million in cryptocurrency, according to data from Dune Analytics). Many are communicating regularly with friends and co-workers on platforms like Viber, Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram, parsing out the complexities of a chaotic invasion. Others are still trying to get family members safely out of the country.

To paint a fuller picture of the emotions surrounding the conflict, The Information spoke with 16 Ukrainian- and Russian-born expats in the tech industry about the war and its impacts.

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