Zgraya at war. Three months of defense
The war in Ukraine touched every member of Zgraya. Some of us met it at home, waking up from the first bombardments. Some of us met it far away from Ukraine, seeing hundreds of horrific headlines. This is the story of how we’ve been doing — as a team, as a company — since Feb, 24th.
Zgraya has always been a Ukrainian-Estonian full-cycle digital agency with most people working from Ukraine. Mainly Kyiv, but we’re scattered from the eastern border to the western one.
We create websites, apps, and branding. We are really passionate about our craft and team.
And we love parties, yeah. It’s the “summer” version of Zgraya you can see below, carefree and enjoying each other’s company.
This “summer” version came to an end with the first explosions heard in Kharkiv.
A few months before the invasion, we heard about Russian troops gathering around our borders. They called it “military training.” This so-called Russian-Belorusian training attracted more and more attention.
What did the Russians want? In their news, they shouted about Nazism, corrupt government, and people who have been suffering under Nazi rule for eight years.
The only thing that has been happening these eight years is the Russian occupation of the eastern regions of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. Tens of thousands of people lost their homes when Russia came to our territory in 2014. The hostilities continued there all this time.
And so the Russians decided that this was not enough for them.
We were getting ready, of course: created evacuation plans, gathered docs, and first-aid kits. We even had first-aid training. Many Ukrainian IT companies did such things at that time.
At the same time, we never thought it could be a real war.
For people worldwide, this day probably started with big headlines. Maybe someone said: “My God, Russia just invaded Ukraine”. Many people heard about the war, but still, enough people did not believe that something like this could happen in 2022. In the heart of Europe.
For our team everything began at 5 a.m. with a call from our HR manager Nastya to our CEO. One phrase was enough to wake everybody up.
Nastya was in Kharkiv, 40 km away from the Russian border. She said Russian missiles were shelling them. The city shook from explosions, the state border was broken through, and hundreds of Russian soldiers entered our territory.
Half an hour later, explosions were a few kilometers away from Kyiv.
Kyiv, Odesa, Kherson, Dnipro, Lutsk, and Lviv — in the first hours of the invasion, there were explosions in the largest cities of Ukraine.
We started bringing our emergency plans into action.
Our CEO Valentyn immediately wrote to our clients telling them about our plans and the situation. We were not going to abandon our projects and obligations.
In the early hours of the war, on the morning of February 24, we received letters of support from all over the world. We were not alone, we felt supported.
Our colleagues in relatively safe places took up more responsibilities to give others time to evacuate.
Most of our people were in Kyiv. Almost all of them left the city, mainly for Western Ukraine. These are the people who had to pack their lives in suitcases in a matter of hours, gather their families and loved ones (and do not forget animals!).
At that time, we didn’t know when we would be able to return home. Each of us has crash-tested our bodies both physically and mentally during those days.
Diana, our CMO, was leaving Ukraine through the Polish border and spent 25 hours driving sleeplessly. In general, she was awake for terrible 37 hours. She was responsible for 3 people in the car — one of them was her six-year-old daughter, Leia.
We all spent a lot of time behind the wheel back then.
On the second day, Russian troops were landing on the outskirts of Kyiv. People were building barricades.
Kherson was occupied in the first days of the war. Our brand designer Kostya was in the city at that time. He volunteered, went to rallies, and gave interviews for as long as he could.
Eventually, Kostya had to leave Kherson— it wasn’t safe for him to stay any longer. With all his volunteering, he attracted unwanted attention and was forced to flee to Lviv.
Our second brand designer Oleksandr stayed in Odesa which isn’t far from Kherson. He even had to celebrate his 38th Birthday in the shelter, because there were non-stop bombards.
Odesa wasn’t occupied, refugees were coming there from occupied Kherson, and they needed food, medicine, and a place to stay. During these days Odesa is being bombarded non-stop. Oleksandr was one of the volunteers, he helped collect humanitarian aid for Ukrainians.
With that 5 am-early morning, the old life collapsed. And we saw how everything crumbled before our eyes. It took much more than one day to figure out how to live on.
Before the war, we made websites and applications. We received international awards and recognition, collaborated with companies worldwide, and enjoyed our work and life.
There are BBC, Etisalat, Publishers Clearing House, and some other big names among our clients. A lot of stuff won and achieved — 48 international awards just in two years. We had a happy life, we had plans and goals. Before February 24th.
At first, we all rushed to help. Donated money to military forces with one hand and made Molotov cocktails with the other one. We volunteered during the lunch break, collected money for equipment, and went to rallies.
At the same time, we never stopped working. There was always someone who talked to clients, wrote texts, and finished designs. Some of us couldn’t do everything on time because of constant bombings. Other guys picked up the tasks.
Almost everybody had “working from shelter” time. Such an experience is hard to forget.
We always knew we had the most amazing clients. The war only proved it. We have not got a single complaint or faced a terminated contract because of delays. But in fact, there were no massive delays. Our team did everything they could, despite what was happening around us. Work distracted us from the madness that was happening around us and gave us a breath of that much-needed fresh air.
It is almost painful to recall moments from the before-war times when we were getting mad because the courier was late for 30 minutes.
We’ve united efforts because that’s what we had to do. By volunteering, donating money, signing up for charity projects, and paying taxes. We did several non-commercial charity projects. Let’s call it “digital volunteering”.
A website for Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation. They’ve been helping our army with ammunition, drones, and vehicles for eight years. We finished their site in just 3 hours. The site helped a lot in the early days of chaos and confusion.
There were other projects. They all helped raise money for the army and told the world about Russian aggression.
We helped where we had the most experience. We are fighting on another frontline and know that we are helping Ukraine. Even with little steps — we are bringing our victory a bit closer.
The war has taught us a lot. Yes, our hands still tremble when we read about the explosions in our hometowns. We still want to go home and are waiting for those very cherished words about our victory. But life goes on. Now we have this unique experience, not from a good life, but we learned to live with it, work, believe in victory, and, essentially — win.
It is very important to believe in our victory. It is important to help our country. And it’s important to keep the wheels turning.
First, we managed to get amazing international recognition worldwide as a company. Zgraya Digital received 20 awards during 80 days of the war.
Second, have started working on 3 new projects. May seem like a small number, but right now each contract is a sign of trust, respect, and support.
We got to the TOP design studios on Clutch. We are number one in the list of digital companies on Clutch in Estonia.
There are two new people in the team. We never stop collecting our Zgraya.
All this time, since the first day of the war, our СEO Valentyn is at the front line.
From the first day, he has been fighting for Ukraine with weapons in his hands. He knows that his Homeland, Ukraine, needs help and protection.
When there is a free moment, Val talks about the war with journalists from America, England, and Norway. It is important to fight the invaders inside on the ground, land, and sea — but it’s also important not to let this story become swept under the rug as “another foreign war”.
It’s happening in Europe, now. Millions of people are in danger and look at the sky with fear every day. This war should be stopped, and not by giving up an acre of our land.
Our armed forces did not give up when the world said that the Russians would take Kyiv in three days. Despite all odds and expert opinions that gave us seven days, we work, we deliver, we live, we love, we fight — for almost three months. And we’re nowhere near giving up.
We believe in our army. Out fighters have become legends, and our country has already become a symbol of stoicism. We fight for peace, fight for our Homeland, and we will win.
Light always wins against darkness.
Ukraine was not supposed to stand for as long as it does. We were not supposed to stand for that long. And yet — we do.
And we will win. There’s no other way. For us it is a prophecy that is already carved in stone.
We will greet our victory with tears for those that we lost. With laughter and love for those that made it. But most of all — with dignity, pride, and clear realization that it all became possible because not for a second do we think of giving up.
Stay strong. Never give up. Keep smiling with us.
And let there be peace.