Friends in Need Are Friends Indeed

07 March 2022
By Mariia Butkevych, Client Delivery Manager
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Mariia has worked at Playtech for 4 years as a Client Delivery Manager at Playtech's Kyiv office. A couple of weeks ago she decided to relocate to Estonia due to the development of the tense situation in Ukraine. She decided to write about her experience on how Playtech as a company is approaching the situation to support the 700+ Kyiv employees in every possible way.

Reading BBC news on Thursday, February 17th, I had no illusions about what was going to happen in Ukraine. The scale of it was underestimated though.

I have worked for Playtech for 4 years now, as a Client Delivery Manager at the Kyiv office. We received an email on the 15th of February, “Communication from Playtech regarding the situation in Ukraine” where our management offered an option to relocate for those who don’t feel safe and are concerned about the situation in the country. They had prepared the 3 closest countries where we have offices – Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania – to accept our employees and their families. Playtech offered assistance with everything including flights, accommodation, and technical support.

I made a decision to move to Tallinn, and our HR department in Kyiv and Estonia fully supported me at every step. Unfortunately, very few of my coworkers made the same decision at that time and I personally felt as if I might be overreacting when I boarded my flight Saturday afternoon, on the 19th of February.

On the morning of Thursday, 24th of February at 08:04, my friend’s call woke me up: “Maria, the war has started, call your mom.” I’ll remember that morning, and her frightened voice and this awful phrase for the rest of my life.

What I will also remember is how thousands of texts from my colleagues from all over the world – Estonia, Israel, UK, Bulgaria, Gibraltar – kept coming to all of the channels that morning saying, “How are you? How’s your family? What can I do for you to help?” Even from those people whom I never worked with.

The next morning, I received a call from a colleague named Argo, a Tech Lead from an Estonian office. I never knew him before, but he was talking to me like I am his sister, and he wants to take care of me in this horror. He asked if I was okay, and where I was. When I told him I was safe and in Tallinn then he asked if I needed anything, where my family was located and constantly asked what help I needed. Argo told me that he is my point of contact in case me or my family members need anything; and that I can reach him 24/7 in case of need. The next day we were developing the plan together on how to get my mom and my sister with 2 kids across the border. Later on, my teammates were texting in the chat that all of them had similar calls from different colleagues from Playtech offices all over the world.

It turned out that Playtech had created a Support headquarters, and a personal coordinator was assigned to each one of us who worked at our Kyiv office. During the first few days, this support center included 140 Playtech volunteers; now it’s more than 260 people from all over the world, checking on the well-being of each one of our 714 Ukrainian colleagues. Besides that, over 110 Playtech employees in Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, and Poland are picking up our colleagues and their families at the borders and arranging hotels for them, often even offering their own homes to stay.

Later that same day, I received an email from a UK Director named Eoin, from the London office. The email included Soldo card bank details for contactless payments, created for me personally, funded with 500 Euro for our emergency needs. This was done for each one of us. This is another moment I will never forget. I had called my mom 5 minutes before that, and I was begging her and my sister to leave the city, as my hometown was constantly attacked the night before. Afterwards, I was reading this email from Eoin, a colleague I have never even seen or worked with before, and he was saying “Maria, we are here for you to help in any way we can, please stay safe”. It’s difficult to describe this feeling of pride to be a part of this team and endless gratefulness for this level of support and a constant reminder that we are not alone in this nightmare.

Our HR UA, Global HR team and our managers around the world are doing a great job every day – they are always available for any of our problems – they are arranging constant transportation every other day from Western Ukraine through the borders, picking us up all over Ukraine to get to a safe place. It’s not only for employees, it’s for our moms and dads, grandparents, friends and their families - literally everyone who is in need in this hell. Our CEO, managers and team leads announced a change freeze for a week. We are free to reach out to any of them, at any level, with any questions we have. 

Our VP, Asaf, sent an email the other day, which was very simple, but exemplifies our company philosophy:

“As we are all aware, our colleagues in Ukraine are caught in a war. This means that their first priority is safety of themselves and their families. @UA branch - I want to take this opportunity to express our support and love to you all. From work and delivery perspective we are working in 50-60% capacity in the UA branch. Few people have approached me asking how they should approach our colleagues in UA during these days…My humble proposal is to be polite, supportive and gentle when approaching (as always). The best way is to ask if he/she is working and if open to any discussion regarding work. Simple and accurate. I hope the UA team will be back to their normal life as soon as possible.”

Today, our COO Shimon told us on a sync-up call that he is from Israel and an ex-military serviceman and so he can empathize with what it’s like when your hometown is under bomb attacks, reiterating that Playtech will do whatever it takes to help each and every one of us in these difficult times. Business is important, but our lives are the highest priority.

Our Kyiv Team Leads, being in shelters themselves, constantly keep in touch with us, some of them helping their team members to get out from Kyiv, to reach their parents in the Kyiv region and other cities using their own cars. Some of them share their homes with teammates. Some of them are calling to talk and help to calm down, to listen, to comfort, to advise, to help to make a smarter decision what to do - to go or to stay.

Our teammates from Estonia are covering our responsibilities to give us time to get to the safe places, replying to our clients without us even asking when we are not available. They constantly text in our work chats asking how we are, sending us pictures of antiwar protests in their hometowns, trying to cheer us up, sending us pictures of their kids drawing Ukrainian flags, which we are sharing with our families as well.

It was a shock for all of us, obviously, but reading the news about some of Ukrainian IT companies who are “relocating only key developers” or threatening their staff to fire them if they stop performing normally, made me want to share the experience we have in our Playtech family. After all we’ve been through these past 7 days, I can’t imagine how to name us differently.

My aim was not to brag, or praise, or advertise but to share the effective Crisis Management steps, for a few reasons.

First – it might be useful for other smaller, less experienced companies to show them what leadership should look like, and to realize that this is the only way to handle problems, to survive and to become stronger afterwards. This way of acting in a crisis will not only create a more trusting and caring atmosphere inside the company, but will demonstrate humanity, strength, and reliability to customers.

And the second reason – is to say a big thank you, for all your help on behalf of my UA team as they don’t always have time to thank you in this madness. We are not taking it for granted, we are endlessly thankful to each one of you for your everyday efforts in helping to keep us and our families safe. 

Playtech Estonia's Tartu Office in Ukrainian Colours

Slava Ukraїni!