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A week is a long time in war, so the saying goes, but four weeks seems like a lifetime, which is when I published my last blog as the first of the Russian tanks invaded Ukraine. The scale of what has happened is truly shocking, with an estimated 10 million Ukrainians now displaced from their homes, countless war crimes being transmitted into our homes every night, and a grim death toll going up by the day.
The response from the international community has been incredible – from a business, public, and political perspective. Here is a summary to put this into context:
- To date, over 400 international companies have withdrawn from Russia. Those that remain are largely due to complex legal or supply chain difficulties, but this list is set to rise.
- Millions of Europeans have opened their homes to complete strangers.
- The UK public has raised an incredible £200m+ in just two weeks.
- Almost the entire world has got behind Ukraine, with 141 UN member countries calling for Russia to stop its offensive. Five rejected this, and 35 abstained from the vote.
- A long and growing list of sanctions against Russia varies by country. For the UK, these sanctions have included seizure of oligarch assets, international financial transactional sanctions, and a string of aviation and energy-related sanctions.
- The term ‘lethal aid’ has entered mainstream news reporting, with a rush from the USA, the UK, and the EU to provide and supply billions worth of arms and ammunition to the Ukraine Armed Forces.
On an individual basis, many more are doing their own bit to support Ukraine and Ukrainians. As this conflict is steering towards a war of attrition, it will soon move down the headlines and will blend into the news landscape. This is common in crisis management – once the initial rush to respond and set mechanisms in place to provide immediate support where it is needed and to mitigate risks, there is the long haul to managing, then recovering from, the crisis. It is part of the crisis lifecycle.
What can this mean for us professionally - as leaders, managers, employers, and employees? Drawing on some of my Balkan conflict experience in the 1990s, here is what I recommend we pay attention to now and in the coming weeks and months.
The Refugee Crisis
At the most basic human level, we empathise with the thought of suddenly being put in danger, losing our home, our freedom, and our financial security. This is what war causes for those involved and, consequently, creates a refugee crisis – human instinct is to run from danger. Individuals are managing their own drastic personal crisis.
Sadly, we are no strangers to refugees in the continent of Europe. We learned about it during our WW2 history lessons, witnessed it in the 1990s during the Balkan wars and, more recently, with the Syrian conflict. The combination of our geography, civic society norms, wealth, and human compassion has meant we receive and absorb refugees, with some countries stepping up more than others. It is a crisis that unfortunately repeats itself.
Whatever the politics of individual European nations and public opinions, accommodating people seeking refuge is part of our societal landscape. Accepting and adjusting to this landscape is simply being a member of modern society, and we should do all we can to recognise and adjust to this in whatever way we can. I may be biased, but when amongst people who have lost absolutely everything, as I was in Sarajevo, it is simply the right thing to do, either as a leader, an opinion former, or as a member of civil society.
One of the better pieces of news in the last few weeks was the reports of employers stepping up to offer jobs to refugees. Being driven from home and a job and losing everything you have worked for is a dehumanising and traumatic experience. Offering employment is one of the most generous and compassionate things to do as it helps restore a sense of normality and allows those people the opportunity to support themselves, reversing the dehumanising experience.
I would encourage anyone in a position to offer employment to do so. All refugees have a skill or a profession – they earned a living before the war, and will want to do so during this enforced transition period they find themselves in. Invariably, there are hurdles, effort, and risks involved in relation to visas, complications, and potentially language capability. However, the difference they can make to your organisations will be eclipsed by the difference you will be making to their shattered lives.
Many people have responded to the crisis by offering grassroots help, mercy missions, and fundraising activity. Employees may already be involved or will be affected by the news headlines and their social media feeds. As this is such a fast-moving story with immediate needs, I recommend internal communication activity to seek out and support employees who want to do something.
Employee-led activity supported by their employer can be offered in many ways: volunteering hours, assistance in kind, and collections for identified needs. Many grassroots organisations can grow quickly and need wider skills to help deliver their support, e.g. logistics, project management, and financial control. Fundraising is another popular and engaging way to support a cause about which employees feel passionate. Benevity is an employee benefits platform and is offering a 2:1 match in support of the Ukraine Crisis – thus tripling what employees raise.
Whatever the impact any war is having on us, either as individuals or as businesses, we do need to pause and think, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ In the case of the war being waged against Ukraine by Russia, the pace and scale is compelling, and if we can help, we should.
Useful links and references:
The UK Disaster Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal:
Benevity: 2:1 Match in Support of the Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine:
Article on employment of Ukrainian refugees:
List of companies withdrawn from and remaining in Russia:
Military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion – House of Commons Library: