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A tech worker describes what it was like leaving Ukraine during the war — and making the decision to return

a photo of Kate Kondakova wearing a long-sleeve, floor length navy blue dress outside of a building with plants growing around itKate Kondakova left her hometown of Odesa two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, but return a few months later.

Kate Kondakova

  • Kate Kondakova left Ukraine two weeks after Russia’s unprovoked invasion, and lived in Moldova.
  • She returned to Ukraine after months of working in other countries, because she felt it was safe.
  • Kondakova talked to Insider about how the war in Ukraine has changed her and her colleague’s lives.

Kate Kondakova didn’t want to leave her home in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of her country last February, because she said she didn’t feel in immediate danger.

On the first day of the Russian invasion, Kondakova told Insider that Odesa was bombed “and it was scary,” but after that, it felt quieter compared to other cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson, which underwent major attacks at the start of the war.

“I didn’t want to take on this reality,” she said. 

Eventually, she was encouraged to leave the country by the CEO of her company, 3DLook, which makes technology to allow consumers to virtually try on clothes. Kondakova is the company’s vice president of legal and finance.

She chose to relocate to Moldova, the closest bordering country to Odesa, because she had other Ukrainian friends who had moved there. And, if she had to return home, she said driving back to Odesa would be under four hours.

“It was a rather challenging period, as it was hard to establish your life in a foreign country,” Kondakova said. “It was hard to accept the new reality, and my everyday life had changed entirely.”

‘I decided to imagine that it’s some kind of journey’

Kondakova said 3DLook was able to support some of its Ukrainian employees with relocation at the beginning of the war, by booking and paying for accommodations and travel in safer regions. 

“I decided to imagine that it’s some kind of journey because it was a hard and stressful time,” Kondakova said of adjusting to living in Moldova.

Kate Kondakova surrounded by bags and boxes of medicine that 3DLook employees volunteered to help provide for Ukrainian defenders.Kondakova said 3DLook volunteers to collect and send medicine to Ukraine’s defenders.

Kate Kondakova

She was able to meet some of her colleagues in Barcelona for a four-day work trip, and traveled to see Ukrainian friends who had relocated in Romania and the Czech Republic because of the war. 

At the end of the summer, Kondakova decided to return home to Odesa because “it was quiet,” she said. However, some of her Ukrainian friends are still in Moldova and the Czech Republic.

“If it wasn’t quiet, I would prefer to stay in Moldova or somewhere else,” Kondakova said.

She said she feels stressed for people living in other regions, like Donetsk, who still face Russian bombing. Kondakova and some other 3DLook employees still in Ukraine have volunteered to collect medicine for Ukrainian defenders during the war.

‘The office has become a place where we come to talk’

Since she’s returned home, Kondakova said she spends most of her days working in her kitchen. She’s used to the work-from-home experience due to COVID-19, she said. 

A MacBook with a black screen sits on a table in front of a plant and a painting of a bunny with a flower crownKondakova’s home office setup.

Kate Kondakova

“On the one hand, there are many advantages here — you don’t have to get up early, you and the computer are always together, and it’s easier to combine work and home,” she said. “On the other hand, you rarely meet people, and it’s hard for you to feel the boundaries of the working day, and sometimes it can drag on until night.”

Kondakova said she personally likes to work from the office, because it’s easier to communicate with her colleagues.

For a few months at the end of 2022, Kondakova said it was difficult to work at home because of blackouts, but the company found its employees an office space with a generator to keep the electricity and internet on.

Gathering together in the office again during that time felt normal, Kondakova said.

“In the mornings, you have the usual life when you’re waking up and getting to the office, meeting people, talking with them,” she recalled.

People gathered together in an office spaceKondakova said the office space that 3DLook has rented for its employees in Odesa has become a place for them keep up with each other.

Kate Kondakova

“It was a few months just pretending that we had a common life,” she said.

Now, Kondakova said she sees her colleagues less often because they have electricity, access to SpaceX’s Starlink internet service, and power banks.

“The office has become a place where we come to talk,” she said. “Most of our employees are scattered worldwide, so we have fun online.”

Kondakova said she’s waiting for the end of the war, and thinks about when she will get to see more of her colleagues and travel again. “But our life has changed completely,” she said.

“I realized that despite the country’s unstable situation, it is better for me to be at home with my close and beloved people,” she said. “Most of all, I enjoy meeting them and walking to the sea. I could not even think such simple things make me happy and help me escape stress.”

Read the original article on Business Insider