“Wake up, the war has begun!” My wife woke me up in the early morning of February 24.
At first I did not understand what had happened—until the last day, we did not believe that Russia could unleash a full-scale war. Our team continued to work as usual. I took the phone from the bedside table and opened work chats. Colleagues, 40 people from all over Ukraine, had been discussing what happened for the past three hours. Russia launched missiles at one city; others saw tanks and military trucks passing by; people were taking relatives and children away to a safer place or descending into bomb shelters.
By the end of the day it became clear that the old world had shattered into pieces. Taleb’s black swan had flown by, and we all needed to get used to living in a new reality.
In the old reality, we had a good life. Over the last five years, my wife and I have built the largest IT media holding in Ukraine. MC.today wrote about IT business, ITC.ua about technology, and Highload.today about developers. We were read by about 4 million Ukrainian users each month. On our team are talented Ukrainian journalists who worked and continue to work, producing journalism for our family of websites.
Before the war, we all shared the same inspiring goal: We were helping Ukraine to become a prosperous country and encouraging Ukrainians not to be afraid of challenges, to go on and reach new heights. But everything changed in one day. This is what happened to us next:
We shifted our focus from IT news to current events coverage
Writers who reviewed the latest iPhone or interviewed IT businesspeople have moved on to covering the war. Now they write about where the nearest bomb shelter is, how Ukrainian refugees can settle in Poland or Germany. They make lists of useful resources and survival tips.
For some of us, the first days were really not easy to accept. One of our journalists, in order to process what was happening, continued to play Gran Turismo 7 for three days to the sound of bombs—he had an assignment to review the game. A few days later, he switched to covering military news.
In March our audience doubled. Our team now works almost seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and releases around 100 articles per day on all three of our sites.
We believe that our work helps the country to get through difficult times, and our articles are, albeit small, still part of the future victory. They give our readers strength and motivation to go on.
The team works from basements and bomb shelters
Before the war, our team worked remotely. Now working remotely helps a lot. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we were used to working in an office and had to completely reorganize how we work.
Some of my colleagues are safe now. They are hiding from air raids either in western Ukraine, where life is almost normal, or in small villages far from the front line. Some became refugees in European countries. Our news writer Tanya spent about five days behind the wheel with little to no sleep until she reached Germany.
Unfortunately, about half of the team is still working at the risk of their lives. In Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Rivne, Odessa, and other cities, air-raid alerts sound every day, many times a day. Russian bombs are falling down on these cities. Our team members are forced to hide, together with their children, in bomb shelters, where they often spend whole nights and days.
This is especially difficult for children. Every time a notification comes to a phone, a daughter of our deputy chief editor Vladimir asks if this is an air-raid alarm. She is afraid that her room will burn down as a result of shelling and never parts with her toy, never stops hugging it.
Some journalists even manage to work from bomb shelters. They set up workplaces there. Ukrainian providers have installed free internet to bomb shelters. Journalists say that work keeps them from going crazy. “If I don’t get in touch tomorrow, please know that this was the best job of my life,” our designer wrote, descending into a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, a city that has been heavily shelled.
Two of our team members, Nastya and Roksana, young and talented authors, are now in Mariupol, a city that Putin’s air force almost wiped out, and where a theater that used to serve as a shelter for 1,000 people was bombed this week. We do not know if they are alive or not. They have not been in touch for two weeks, and we can only pray for them and hope that they will survive.
We continue to pay our writers’ salaries
Since the beginning of the war, we have not laid off a single person and have not reduced wages by a dollar. Our authors need to support their families. They need to buy food, pay for housing. Many have escaped from their homes and need to pay for shelter in Europe or in western Ukraine. We cannot leave them to their fate. Money is needed no less during war than it is in peacetime.
Our income today is almost zero
Before the war, we made our income by selling native advertising to Ukrainian and international brands. Among our clients were Visa, Mastercard, Samsung, and Dell, banks and mobile operators.
On February 24, our income was reduced to almost zero. Banner advertising remained the only source of income, but it brings no more than 5% of the amount that is needed. Almost all businesses in Ukraine have stopped their operations, and none of us knows how long this will continue. We only know that we need to hold on until victory at any cost.
We launched crowdfunding to support our team
We do not want to shut down. Our duty now is to continue to work for our readers. We need to support our journalists. Their lives and the lives of their families largely depend on their jobs.
That’s why we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign with the hopes of raising $300,000. This money would be enough to support our team and pay for operational expenses for four to five months. During this time we believe the war will end, and we will get back to writing stories about talented Ukrainians and the technology businesses they’ve built. And together with them, we will restore the country and build our future.
“I hope that none of my loved ones will die and remain crippled. This will end someday, and we will be able to live again in a world in which the biggest problem is an overdue loan and closure of a favorite bar,” Gleb, a tech writer, wrote last week. In his eyes in the first days of the war, a Russian tank ran over a civilian car. He still sees it.
I believe that Ukraine will win, and even after the most terrible night, the dawn will come. I would be grateful if you could support us in this situation, or share this column with your friends. Thank you.
Glory to Ukraine!
Timur Vorona is the cofounder of Creators Media Group, a media company based in Ukraine that publishes MC.today, ITC.ua, and Highload.