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Data reveals how Ukraine-based companies employing expats reacted to Russian invasion

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Less than five weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, less than 31 percent of Ukraine-based organizations who employed expats had closed operations, despite security risks and threats to the expats’ physical safety, data from global mobility expert ECA International showed.

Russia invaded Ukraine in what Moscow called a “special military operation” on February 24 and has since displaced millions both internally and across the world.

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Over 80 percent of expats were evacuated before or within five weeks of the conflict and around 63 percent of organizations remained operational in Ukraine, possibly because they are based or relocated to the west of Ukraine due to the extreme nature of the Russian aggression that has been taking place in the country as the war continues into its fourth month.

In addition, over half of organizations employing local nationals evacuated them as well, with 12 percent saying they were planning to follow suit, highlighting that operations were relocated to a third country or conducted remotely, where possible.

“As some governments have relocated embassies to the western city of Lviv, it’s likely that businesses which have remained operational have also relocated, to locations that are experiencing less damage and threat,” ECA International’s Production Manager Steven Kilfedder said in a statement.

“If the war does continue to progress on its current course, we can expect the number of organization closures to increase,” he said, adding that it was encouraging that almost three quarters of companies already evacuated essential expats (85 percent), non-essential expats (84 percent), and dependents of expats (88 percent).

The groups were either evacuated to their home countries, a neighboring country, or a temporary third location.

Financial, mental health support for expats

Organizations that participated in the survey took measures to support their expat employees.

Around 68 percent said they supported expats with international financial transactions as the National Bank of Ukraine, at the beginning of the invasion, limited currency transfers and withdrawals.

Additionally, 68 percent of the organizations supported their staff with security advice and training, while 11 percent of expats were provided with security personnel.

Employee wellbeing was also a focal point for many, with 63 percent of organizations providing mental and physical wellbeing support to expats.

“Twenty-one percent were given rest and recuperation leave; this figure may appear low, but as [over] 80 percent were already evacuated, of those that remained, this percentage is significant,” said Kilfedder. “We would advise businesses to provide extra leave for expats to manage the transition of leaving and moving to another country, to allow time to settle.”

Access to a crisis hotline was also offered as a support measure, with almost 63 percent providing this to expats.

“Businesses must recognize that short-, medium- and long-term support will be required. For those still located in Ukraine – leave, respite, and mental health support is paramount, on top of the necessity of financial transaction support and access to goods, including medical supplies,” he added.

Businesses were also surveyed on the support they were offering expats who were leaving Ukraine as a result of the conflict. Benefits such as insurance was provided by 88 percent of businesses, followed by the arrangement of accommodation at 85 percent (in their home countries or a third location).

While 11 percent of businesses have increased or introduced a cost-of-living allowance for expats in Ukraine, only 3 percent increased or introduced a location hardship allowance, and none has increased mobility premiums.

“To support expats in Ukraine we strongly advise businesses to prioritize practical methods of support, not monetary motivators.”

Several businesses did not have a crisis policy in place

Despite the growing threat of an invasion in the lead-up to the war, over a third of businesses that took part in the survey did not have a crisis policy in place, a statistic higher than reported in the ECA’s previous Spot Survey which was conducted in countries like Lebanon and Myanmar.

A lot of work goes into crisis policies. It usually involves creating a crisis management team within an organization to establish and administer clear lines of communication and to establish evacuation routes and procedures that need to be followed in the event of a crisis. Such policies aim to protect both the business and its employees.

“We were quite surprised by the Spot Survey results, as we had anticipated past experiences and learnings to have influenced businesses to implement a crisis policy. It’s highly recommended that all organizations which employ expats have a formal crisis policy in place which applies to all types of potential disasters – natural as well as man-made,” said Kilfedder.

“It doesn’t need to be rigid, like a step-by-step guide, but is a useful go-to document to have in time of need, when stress levels are high and such situations may not have occurred before. A crisis policy document simply needs to include important contacts details, and instructions of who to notify; contacts will be experts who can provide timely advice and information, these include experts in security and immigration, who will help businesses and their employees to navigate crises as they unfold.”

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