CEO in Poland and Her Team Help Ukrainians Fleeing War

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. March 18, 2022
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Eastern Europe

​Natalia Panowicz is the CEO of Codility, a software-as-a-service platform that evaluates the skills of software engineers. Codility is a global remote-first organization with part of the team residing in Warsaw, Poland, and helps companies build and grow high-performing engineering teams. Its core values are "we're human, we think big, we take ownership and we're real."

These values have made possible its immediate and comprehensive response to the war in Ukraine, which Panowicz described as "an unprovoked invasion and aggression on behalf of Russia against their democratic neighbor." She spoke to SHRM Online about the actions her company has taken.

What is it currently like in Warsaw and other parts of Poland, with people from Ukraine arriving and needing assistance?

Since the beginning of Russia's horrific war in Ukraine, almost 2 million refugees have made it to Poland. Poland borders Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and prior to the war, there already was a vibrant community of more than 1 million Ukrainians working and living in Poland. This war feels very real and very close to anybody in Poland. The Polish authorities are providing immediate work permits, social security numbers, [and] universal health care for each refugee and support for their hosts. There's an unprecedented outburst of help from so many people in Poland who take refugees to their homes, make donations and prepare meals. 

Are you assisting your own employees that have come from Ukraine and, if so, how? Are you helping provide assistance to others?

The Codility team is global and comprises people coming from 30 different countries. While we do not have operations in Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, we have team members coming from these countries with close [family and friends] in active war zones in Ukraine. We have team members from other countries whose former colleagues or close ones are there, too. Part of our global team resides in Warsaw. Together with our Warsaw-based colleagues, we have organized immediate support for close ones of our team members, engineering community and business community. We are currently sheltering in Warsaw over 90 people who managed to flee the war, and are prepared to help others. 

We have pledged our engineering support to Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations as part of the Tech To The Rescue initiative and will be matched with projects and teams that will benefit from our engineering expertise.

Our Women Employee Resource Group (ERG) has donated their funds to humanitarian aid in Ukraine. Our People of Color ERG is in the process of donating theirs specifically to aid refugees of color. Many of our team members decided to pledge their Codility mental health support allowance to humanitarian aid. We continue to work with the team on various aid initiatives for Ukraine and victims of this war. One of Codility's key values is "we're human," and I'm immensely proud of how our team demonstrates this through their actions.

What can those in the U.S. who would like to help do to assist those fleeing Ukraine?

Consider donating to organizations helping refugees, like the United Nations Refugee Agency, actively participate in civic actions in support of Ukraine and spread verified information about this war. We've seen how public pressure on politicians in the U.S. and Europe resulted in tangible support for Ukraine already, and there is more that countries can do to help stop this war.

How has your organization and others prioritized supporting colleagues in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus?

We do not have operations on the ground in these countries, but Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian colleagues work with us in Poland, Germany and in the U.S. We're supporting them with help for their close ones who are making it out of Ukraine. One of our U.K. team members was in Russia when the war started. We're assisting this team member and their family in making it back to the U.K.

What challenges are some of your employees facing?

Our team members with close ones in the active war zones fear for their close ones' lives and are actively helping them, whatever decision on staying or fleeing they're making. Our Ukrainian colleagues are experiencing their country of origin under horrific invasion by Russia, who is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Our Russian and Belarusian colleagues are processing the horrors of the war that their country is committing or complicit in. We have many other team members coming from other countries whose close ones are in Ukraine. For our Polish team members, this war is a strong emotional trigger. We have team members from current or former conflict zones in other countries for whom this is a trigger, too. 

How is Russia's attack an emotional trigger for some employees in Poland?

Throughout many centuries of Poland's history, Russia has invaded and occupied Poland over and over again. Poland was invaded by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during World War II, which took the lives of 20 percent of Poland's pre-war citizens: 6 million people, including 3 million Polish Jews. Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was completely destroyed by Nazi Germany after two months of the uprising and in-city fighting. Every family has war stories to tell. Russia's war in Ukraine feels eerily familiar to people in Poland, hence a strong emotional trigger.  

What types of contingency plans are being made, and why are they being developed?

While we consider the war spilling over to Poland—which is both a NATO and European Union country—very unlikely, we prefer to be prepared and hope we won't ever need to trigger any contingency plans. We've established an emergency committee that is responsible for making sure that our people and their families will make it safely outside of the zones in danger.

What's the main takeaway for employers as they witness the invasion of Ukraine?

This is the biggest war in Europe since the end of World War II. It is changing the world order and will impact the global economy. Your employees may be coming from the region or have close ones in active war zones. As we're all navigating this war, strong values, adaptability and resilience will be key.

How can you help?
The International Committee of the Red Cross remains active in Ukraine, saving and protecting the lives of victims of armed conflict and violence. Its neutral and impartial humanitarian action supports the most vulnerable people, and your donation will make a huge difference to families in need right now. Donate here.

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