Thought Leadership

Life and PR During Wartime in Ukraine

War in Ukraine

Nina Bohush never imagined she would experience war. But for this PR professional in Ukraine, living and working as war rages around her is exactly what has happened.

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the Eastern European country, shelling and bombing Ukrainian cities with missiles and killing civilians every day.

Bohush, a PR specialist at MacPaw, a software company headquartered in Kyiv, shared her harrowing experiences and lessons learned during a recent livestream webinar hosted by PRSA’s Thoroughbred Chapter in Kentucky.

Nina Bohush

Before the invasion, she was living her life with her husband, pursuing her PR career and having fun.

When the first Russian missiles hit Kyiv, it was early morning and she was sleeping at home. Bohush heard explosions not far from her building. She started to search for news and saw a big “WAR” title in one of the media. She and her husband started packing their staff, and decided to go to their parents, who live in the same neighborhood.

She keeps a sleeping bag ready to go, with provisions to last three days. “You never know when you will have to hide.”

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from Feb. 24, 2022, when the Russian attack against Ukraine started, to Dec. 26, 2022, Ukrainian civilian casualties included 6,884 people killed and 10,947 injured.

Communications to help people survive

As bombs fell, bus stops and subway stations became improvised work shelters for Bohush and her communications team. MacPaw volunteers started a hotline people could call for news and information. They created an emergency service that provided crucial information and helped MacPaw teammates evacuate to safer places and find accommodation in new cities and countries.

The team used every communications method available to reach people around the world “and spread the truth about what was happening there,” she said.

In just a week, MacPaw engineers created Together App, a Slack bot and website where companies can organize daily check-ins for their teams to ensure that everyone is in a safe place. The interactive map allows seeing the location in real-time and gives an understanding of whether someone needs help. Together App is available on Github for free, so that other companies and organizations in Ukraine can check in their teams and provide them with immediate help.

In wartime, when the parts publicly reported cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, the topic of cybersecurity started to receive even more attention than before. In March, MacPaw launched SpyBuster, a free app for macOS and iOS to help people around the world protect their data from cyber threats originating from Russia and Belarus. MacPaw engineers created SpyBuster in less than a month, working from bomb shelters. SpyBuster is also available as a Google Chrome extension that notifies users about suspicious website connections and visualizes them on a map.

Software that MacPaw uses internally and licenses to clients allows the company to check that its personnel are safe, in real-time. “If anyone needs help, we help immediately,” she said. “For me, it’s an example of great courage from the team.”

Bohush and her communications team managed to issue eight news releases during the first five weeks of the war. She said the company’s MacPaw Foundation raises money to “help defenders stay alive at the front lines.”

The nation’s people have tried to protect their rights “to exist as Ukrainians,” she said. “This mutual fight has united us.”

Learned not to underestimate herself

“I remember the day of the Russian invasion minute by minute,” she said. “Every time, I cry when I hear the air raid sirens. It brings you back to reality.”

The company had heeded early warnings about the war and created a plan to help prepare its team. The plan addressed questions such as “Which routes will you take to escape?” and “Where will you fuel the car?” As people tried to flee Kyiv, roads became overloaded with vehicles.

“If you host an event, you have to have access to a bomb shelter,” she said. “You have to burn a lot of energy during a war.”

She tries to take care of herself so that she can help others. “It’s important to take care of your mental health,” she said. “It’s like being on a plane, when they say to put on your oxygen mask first, before you can take care of others. Supporting each other has really helped a lot.”

A video that her team made shows images of Kyiv before and after the bombings. The smiling faces of Ukrainian people express thanks to the nations and organizations that have supported them during the invasion: a boy, an elderly woman.

“I really appreciate your support,” Bohush said during the PRSA event. Journalists have been supportive by reporting on the war and getting the story to the world, she said.

Like other Ukrainians, Bohush now divides her life into “before” and “after” Russia invaded her country. The experience has taught her that “we can’t change the circumstances, but we can find a way to handle it.”

She’s learned not to underestimate herself. “As it turned out, I could handle and do more than I ever thought. In crisis conditions, if you believe in what you’re fighting for, then you can do more.”

[Photo credit: alimyakubov]


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PRSA Staff

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