After Russia launched an all-out war against Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians had to flee their homes, rescue relatives, relocate their businesses, and volunteer for their country.
Headway, an edtech startup with offices in London, Nicosia, Kyiv and Warsaw, has faced these challenges.
However, they evacuated their Ukrainian team to a safe place with relatives, ensured business continuity, and continued hiring. Here are the stories of three women from Headway who managed these complex tasks while keeping their families safe and resilient.
1. Anastasia Bondarenko, Head of Content and Communication
The most challenging thing was to accept the reality.
Usually, I am responsible for the content on our app and company communications. My main job is to create, develop and lead teams to follow product strategy and achieve business goals. But on February 24, my usual responsibilities stopped.
Instead, I joined the emergency team and helped keep everyone in the company updated on our next steps.
At first I instructed the team on how to pack an alert bag and then told everyone about the changes in workflow during the war. My responsibilities were to create Headway’s positioning, share the right messages and move Headway women abroad during these dire times.
During the first weeks of the war, I was on “autopilot” – with a cool mind and a clear plan for the next two days.
The hardest thing for me was to accept the fact..
That acceptance came in March when my family and the team left for relatively safe places.
We have created two social projects to support Ukraine
As Headway’s educational app, we’ve created a selection of summaries to teach you about Russia’s war in Ukraine, its causes, and its course in the first few weeks. We want to disseminate reliable information about the war as quickly and widely as possible, making this content free for everyone.
Our next social project was a series of infographics about safety during the war. We have compiled advice from official sources on health, psychological support, nuclear and chemical hazards, and behavior during conflict. We hope that this content will be useful for all Ukrainians, but we still hope that our readers will never need to use it.
I am proud that our company has been able to balance the spirit of our patriotism with our business goals to maintain continuity, support the Ukrainian economy and give back to Ukrainians.
My self care tips
Before the war, taking care of myself required the utmost effort and discipline. But now I’m learning to find joy in the process. I follow my most effective tips – sleep, diet, exercise and psychotherapy – with an emphasis on swimming, working out and walking.
Swimming literally and figuratively keeps me afloat. I am learning to relax my body, do some movement and enjoy swimming. It has no less therapeutic effect on me than psychotherapy.
I will continue with my psychotherapy. Involuntarily I have reached points where I can go deeper than I have in years of therapy. All of these issues have become more apparent during the war, so now, I will try harder to face it fully.
Before the war I could barely walk, and my friends joked that I wasn’t walking but walking from point A to B. Think life, movement, and free breathing.
I’m in recovery on my own, which is why walking around town with music is one of my top three self-care tips.
2. Olha Shapova, Head of B2B Department
I worked day and night to get our team out to safe places
I am the head of the B2B department at Headway. We offer corporate programs for Headway app registration for various companies around the world. We want to help them nurture their employees’ learning and development and prevent burnout. We only started the B2B department three months ago, so we’re still hiring a team and testing hypotheses. However, we already got the customers on board.
After the war started, I had to focus entirely on the evacuation of the group. In addition to the group from London and Cyprus, we have a pretty large group in Ukraine – about 90 people – who had to be evacuated with their families.
The most challenging thing was to consider each individual story and solve individual cases.
Some of our teammates have young children, some have elderly grandparents, and some have multiple animals that need special attention. We found a place to stay with our pets and the air raid warning had a large bomb shelter to hide in.
When most of our team was safe in western Ukraine, I started moving children and elderly relatives abroad.
Polish tenants in Warsaw understood our situation and helped us completely, so we quickly found an office. They gave us a discount and helped organize everything as quickly as possible.
My family didn’t want to go, and because of that I couldn’t sleep
At the same time, I had to take care of my family’s well-being. I asked my parents to go, but they didn’t want to.
I could not sleep because he knew they were in danger. I set my alarm clock to go off every two hours so I could watch the news, and texted my parents at 5 and 7 am to make sure they were okay. If they didn’t answer me, I would have panicked.
During the three-week war, my mother and sister agreed to go to Poland. But my other relatives stayed in Kiev. We meet every day, and I monitor the situation of the war. I miss everyone so much, but I believe we will be home soon.
B2B challenges during the war
As I took the redundancy process, I had to put aside my B2B activities. It was a full time job (I worked day and night), it took up all my time and energy. As a result, my time for general work was no more than 20%. Fortunately, my team picked up all the current tasks and did it 120%.
As of now, I am also fully involved in B2B development. However, in the new reality of war, we have unique challenges.
Before the war, we all worked in the office. I think it’s important for a new business unit like ours to test new hypotheses and solve problems quickly.
But remote work sometimes hinders communication and reduces process settings. Moreover, as the leader of the team, I try to do everything to avoid employee burnout, but it is very difficult to notice the alarm bells during remote work.
We gathered all the Hideaway team in different locations – Warsaw, Poland and Western Ukraine – so that we can stick together in small groups, have live communication, support each other and feel safe.
My self care tips
I started doing Thai boxing before the fight and now it’s my best fan.
As the training is very intense, I completely let go of all my negative emotions and allow my brain to rest from everyday tasks. I run and exercise with boxing to help me stay fit and reduce my body aches.
Studies show that reading at least 20 minutes a day can reduce stress. I read every day; It works.
I also work with a psychologist. Therapy was a part of my life before the war, but now it is even more important. My life goals before the war are no longer relevant, and my psychologist has helped me figure out how to organize my life and what to do next.
Seeing my family and close friends and talking heart-to-heart is very important to me. So, I will meet them as soon as they come to Warsaw. After all, connecting with close people is a part of everyday life that we Ukrainians lack a lot these days.
3. Mariana Boloban, head of training
I worked for a month without a break because work helped me.
For six months, I not only led the recruitment team but also participated in HR processes. I interviewed candidates, strategically grew our team, and met with managers to help them grow with people management.
But once the war started, I had to dive into internal communications to help our team of 130+ people connect remotely and deal with stress. I also worked with the emergency team to help our team move to safer places in Ukraine and abroad.
During the first month of the war, we met online at 11 a.m. every day, even on weekends, to communicate and support each other, both psychologically and practically. I remember working non-stop because my work gave me a sense of control and helped me cope.
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A rocket hit my neighbor’s house, and I had to leave
As soon as the war started, I moved from Kiev to my parents’ house in the small town of Bila Tserkva. My colleague’s family also lives there, so we get together to volunteer in our spare time. The feeling of helping our army and other people supported me and gave me more strength.
I stayed with my parents in Bila Tserkva for a while until a rocket hit a private house near my parents’ house.
After that, I realized that it’s not safe there anymore, so I decided to move to Lviv – a relatively safe city in the west of Ukraine. My mother and nephew went with me, but my father and brother decided to stay to protect our home. My father is over 60 years old so I am very worried about them, and I can’t convince them to go.
One of our jobs is to get together for coffee and pizza like we did in peacetime and spend time together. I am happy to be with you during these difficult times.
It is difficult to evaluate candidates under the constant stress of bombardment.
I think the leader of a team should take on the role of a fighter and be a supporter of their team. I will try to do this even though it is very challenging because of the emotional stress caused by the war and the worry about my relatives and my future. During the first few days of the war, my team was uncertain as we had stopped recruiting, and it was unclear when we would be recruiting again.
A few weeks later, my team started recruiting again, looking for Ukrainian specialists who will support our talent and our country’s economy.
But hiring has changed and brought new challenges, such as assessing candidates’ skills in blast sites and under the constant stress of bombing and matching those skills to our company.
During the first three months of the war, 21 new arrivals joined the Headway group. Onboarding is very difficult for new people and our managers right now, but we are able to cope with it thanks to great support from the team.
My challenge is just to relax. I work a lot, I help the country by contributing, I help others. And I feel like it’s not time to rest, but I’m starting to take a few days off.
My team has been an incredible support to me.
I’ve been in psychotherapy for two years now, and I’m sure they helped me calm down quickly after the war. Therefore, I will continue my treatment, which is a very useful support.
My recruiting team and the entire Headway team have been an incredible source of support for me. Our people are very friendly and are always ready to take on each other’s tasks or help each other in word or deed. Also, my work gives me a great sense of stability. I feel between my place and my people.
I was lucky enough to move to the city of Lviv, where I lived for eight years and considered my second home. It would have been more of an emotional challenge if I had moved to a completely unfamiliar city.
Meet the women of Headway: Anastasia Bondarenko, Content & Communications, Olha Shapovalova, Head of B2B, Mariana Boloban, Head of Recruitment. They manage these complex tasks while keeping their families safe and resilient.