War-Life Balance: What It Means to Keep the Job During the War In Ukraine

Editor’s note: Since February 24, 6.6 million people in Ukraine have left their homes and become internally displaced persons. 60% of them lost their jobs, and the monthly income of 35% of their families is less than 200 euros. For Zoya Kurbanova, an Email Marketing Specialist at CodeGym.cc, it’s not just numbers. “All my friends, who worked in different areas, became unemployed since the beginning of the war,” she says. Her husband and her mom also lost their jobs. For several months, Zoya was her family’s only source of income. She supported her close ones and covered the rent of two apartments: her temporary home is in the west of Ukraine and her permanent home in Kyiv. This is another in an occasional series of articles on life and work during the war in Ukraine.

“I thought even if the war started, Kyiv would be safe.”

I feel like the full-scale war caught us all by surprise. Nobody believed it could be real. At the same time, we heard a lot of warnings. For example, my friend has worked for a French humanitarian non-profitable organization operating in Ukraine for the last eight years, since the Russian invasion started in 2014. Many of the staff members are foreigners, so the manager began to worry a few weeks before February 24. The organization was considering moving the office somewhere closer to the EU border. Eventually, they relocated to Lviv, and my friend went there, too.

On February 24, early morning, she called me with a “The war started” message. Probably every Ukrainian got such a call that day. First, my husband and I couldn’t make up our minds and go somewhere. I had that weirdly strong assumption that even if the war started, Kyiv would be the last place Russians would try to conquer. But as all our friends were leaving the city, we also decided to move.

We called our friend who lives in the Ivano-Frankivsk region and works in a local volunteer retreat center. We knew there was a hostel in this center, so we asked if we could stay there. He said the hostel was already fully booked for women with kids, but we’d figure something out. That’s how we chose our destination.

Twenty-two hours of driving, almost without stops. Many cups of coffee and a lot of fear. When we finally arrived, it turned out the only available room was the conference hall. We slept on the floor, and it was very cold there. We shared one toilet with 20 others, and taking a hot shower was possible only at night. It was hard, but I kept telling myself that at least we were safe. We weren’t under shelling or occupation, like many Ukrainians. We were lucky enough.

Later, we found an apartment and rented it. When we were leaving Kyiv, we packed as if it was a short trip, just for one or two weeks. Spoiler alert: our temporary stay in the west of Ukraine lasted four months. And we could afford it only because I kept my job, was able to work remotely, and got paid.

“I became the only one providing for my family.”

My husband lost his job on February 24. He worked for an e-commerce company; its business stopped when the war started. My husband and all his coworkers didn’t even get a February salary. It was a big problem because many of these people were the only source of income for their families. often supporting wives with small kids. During the war, they were left empty-handed.

Luckily for our family, I still had my job. On February 24, there was such chaos everywhere, and nobody knew what to do. Our company has a chat called “Working from home”, where you post a message if you’re WFH or unavailable today for some reason. That day, nobody even remembered to write to this channel in the morning. And for a few days, we all were offline.

But next Monday, our CEO wrote a message saying, “work remotely if you can and take care of yourselves.” Our top managers’ goals were to save the team, continue working and keep the business afloat. I was afraid of layoffs, but the CEO specifically told us that he understood the current situation and couldn’t leave people without money in such difficult times. It was a relief: my husband and mom had already lost their jobs, and we had to pay rent for two apartments (the one we were staying in and the other one in Kyiv).

The communication within the company remained open, transparent, and honest as before the war. Team leaders answered the employees’ questions, and my colleagues and I felt that “people first” weren’t just nice words for our company. One of our employees is also a counselor, and team leaders said we could talk to him if we’re feeling down. Also, once or twice we shared our emotions and worries after the meeting. It was weird at first but then comforting. It felt as if we met at the office and chatted over a cup of coffee like we used to. It brought us a bit closer together.

“My mom had to work under air raid sirens – or quit.”

My husband and I are from Mykolaiv, the city in the south of Ukraine. We moved to Kyiv five years ago, but my mom stayed there, working at the small store which sells cookies and candies. Mykolaiv is pretty close to Kherson, and the Russians took Kherson over in the first weeks of the war.

The owner of the store wanted to keep it open. So, my mom had to work even under air raid sirens – or quit. She’s retired, but she was terrified of losing her job. I couldn’t let my mom work in such conditions, and I said: “Your life is way more important than this job.” And once again, my job (and the money I was earning) became a lifesaver.

Eventually, I convinced her to come to the west of Ukraine and stay with us. Evacuating from Mykolaiv wasn’t an easy task because of the shelling. Trains wouldn’t go, it was too dangerous. So, with the help of the Red Cross, she went to Odesa by car and then took a train from Odesa to Lviv.

My mom rarely left Mykolaiv during her whole life. So, the road to the west was exhausting for her. Huge crowds at the railway station, on the train. In a cabin for four, you could find 15 people, all scared and nervous.

In Lviv, my mom had to change the train. Lviv railway station was a total mess at that time. Thanks to volunteers, my mom found the right train and wasn’t hungry. I can’t imagine how I would help her from a distance.

Until my mom came, I couldn’t sleep well. I had nightmares almost every night, I was nervous and overwhelmed with emotions. The moment I saw her, I felt like a 10-kilogram rock dropped from my shoulders. It was such a relief!

My mom stayed with us for some time. Later I helped her relocate to Spain, where my brother lives.

“I continue working remotely and still feel anxious when leaving home.”

My husband didn’t work while we were living in the west of the country. There weren’t enough jobs even for the locals. But he did some volunteer work, which helped to keep him occupied.

In a few months, his company offered employees to resume working. However, it couldn’t restore the pre-war sales amounts and pay the same salaries. But still, it was something, and my husband didn’t want to lose this opportunity to bring his share into the family budget. That’s why he agreed and came back to Kyiv before me. At the beginning of May, he got the first money since the war started – it was his salary for February. Now he’s earning less money and looking for a new job. It’s not easy in Kyiv now, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.

As for me, I wasn’t feeling calm enough to return to Kyiv till June. Our district is not the safest place in the city since some facilities there can be a target for Russians. Nevertheless, I finally made peace with this thought and came back home.

I continue working remotely. Partly because the road to the office and back takes more time than before the war. And partly because I feel anxious when I must leave my home. For example, I can go to the store, but it’s not easy. I’m considering asking for professional help with this issue. These days, Ukrainians experience so many emotions that it’s hard to deal with them alone.

Some of my colleagues are already in Kyiv, and some are in other cities or abroad. But our team is very strong, and we can work from anywhere without harming our productivity. Moreover, since February, we have launched many new projects. The company is fighting for survival and future prosperity, so it’s developing rapidly and trying out different ideas. For example, we initiated a donation project: you can buy a subscription for yourself, and CodeGym will cover one more subscription for Ukrainians who lost their jobs and want to switch to Java development. Also, we’re preparing new courses and entering new markets.

In the past, we often talked about some of these ideas but never had the time and resources to pursue them. Now, it’s time for us to be bold, move quickly, and do everything we were postponing before – and even more.

Zoya Kurbanova is an Email Marketing Specialist at CodeGym. She was born in Mykolaiv in the South of Ukraine and graduated here from the V.O. Sukhomlynskyi National University of Mykolaiv. In 2018 she and her husband moved to Kyiv. She has worked as Email Marketing Specialist since 2015 and joined the CodeGym Marketing Team in 2019.