This feature first appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
For many IT professionals in the United States and elsewhere, the war currently raging between Ukraine and Russia has become something of a national news afterthought. Russia has been aggressively encroaching on Ukraine since 2014, but Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the scope of his ambitions to the level of a full-scale invasion nearly a full year ago.
War headlines flooded the internet for a few months and the Ukrainian national flag was liberally sprinkled throughout the social media sphere. National leaders rallied support for Ukraine, and Russia's initial surge into Ukraine slowed, then stalled, and then settled into a seesaw between bloody stalemate and slow reversal. Other news headlines gradually displaced war coverage and global attention shifted.
Those who live and work in Ukraine, of course, don't have the luxury of thinking about other things and letting the Russian invasion simmer on a mental back burner. Among those for whom the ongoing war is a continuous concern is Vitaliy Golomoziy, a career IT professional whose life has taken a dramatic turn since Feb. 24, 2022.
For background, Vitaliy was part of my team at Magento, and was a remarkable subject matter expert (SME) for content development and certification. Other SMEs considered him to be the best of the best, and his technical expertise goes far beyond Magento. Our group was disbanded when the company we were working for was acquired, but Vitaliy and I have stayed in touch.
What follows is a snapshot what life has been like for Vitaliy since the Russian invasion began. Some of the questions are mine, and others were suggested by the Certification Magazine editorial team.
Certification Magazine: Please give our readers an idea of your professional experience and background.
Vitaliy Golomoziy: I’ve been in IT since 2003. Since 2008 my career is deeply related to Magento — up to mid-2020 I was associated with the company in one way or another, as an employee or contractor.
During those years I played various roles: software developer, team lead, consultant in Expert Consulting Group, software architect, and SME in training and certification. I developed most of the technical courseware Magento offered for Magento 1 and Magento 2 and played an active role in certification development.
When Peter joined Magento in 2017, we successfully implemented what is now known as “rapid development” for both training content and certification exams. I’m very proud of this period in my life and was honored to be part of these efforts with Peter and Richard Huie-Buckius, the head of Magento U, who actively supported all our initiatives.
In addition to my career in IT, I’m an associate professor at Kyiv University, teaching and researching probability theory and statistics. I’m a Ph.D. in probability and was working toward my second dissertation (we have two scientific levels here in Ukraine — candidate, an analogue of Ph.D. and doctor, which you may think of as an analogue of professor).
CM: What has it been like to be a part of this war?
VG: The war. At 5 a.m., Feb. 24, 2022, I woke up to loud bangs all around. I evacuated my family to western Ukraine, which, as we thought, was a safer place. The first days were very dramatic and almost hopeless. After one week, we decided my wife and kids should evacuate somewhere in Europe, and they finally landed in Heidelberg, a beautiful city in Germany. I could not go with them, since males were forbidden to leave the country, and I didn’t want to leave my parents, who stayed in Ukraine.
By law, relocated males had to report to a local recruitment center, which I did, and was immediately conscripted to the army. To say this disrupted the regular course of things is an understatement. Living in Kyiv, my city that I left, was very challenging in March. Russian troops came within seven kilometers of my house on the west and probably a similar distance away on the north, where they seized the flourishing suburbs of Kyiv including notorious Bucha and Irpin.
I had a very hard time convincing my parents to leave the Kyiv region and evacuate to western Ukraine. They finally did so, but after two weeks, returned. I stayed in the service for about four-and-a-half months and returned home in the middle of July.
Peter Manijak: What about work?
VG: Regarding work, before the war I was engaged in one project as a consultant, and we were in the middle of negotiations with other potential customers. Clearly, this came to a halt and after a while my business partner in the United States had to find a replacement for me.
My university kept my position and was paying the full salary during my service. Now I continue my teaching and research here. It is worth mentioning the very strong support we got from the European academic community. Many universities offer various programs to support Ukrainian scientists — both those who left and those who stayed.
CM: What has been the impact on the IT industry inside Ukraine?
VG: When the war sparked, companies reacted differently. Many companies stayed in Ukraine and tried to keep their employees. Many eastern cities, including Kharkiv, the second biggest city of Ukraine, were heavily affected and IT companies tried to relocate their personnel either deeply into the country or abroad.
At the same time, outsourcing companies faced pressure from some of their customers wanting to halt work in Ukraine to ensure the security and stability of their operations. Western product companies slowed down or completely stopped hiring, but tried to keep their teams. I’ve heard myself of one such company that keeps paying salaries to its conscripted employees and promised to keep their jobs.
Ukrainian product companies, in contrast, faced a sharp decline in their business operations and faced a difficult challenge. For example, Rozetka, an online marketplace known as "Ukrainian Amazon," was heavily affected by the war, lost many of its warehouses, and laid off most of its IT employees. To summarize, those in IT who had a job before the war mostly kept it and had a chance to relocate within or outside the country if needed. Some people lost their jobs, and it is difficult to find a new one these days.
CM: What can IT professionals do to support Ukraine?
VG: First, I would like to use this opportunity to thank all of my friends and colleagues who supported me and my family in our darkest moments. Especially, I would like to thank Vinai Kopp and Joseph Maxwell, who have taken very direct actions that made a big difference. My life could have been very different without their help.
Second, I will try to outline what can be done to support Ukraine in general:
Money — The war is a very expensive thing, plus the Ukrainian economy is in ruins, so the demand for money is huge. Fortunately, it is very easy to donate even a small amount. I can recommend Come Back Alive (see: https://savelife.in.ua/en/), an incredible volunteer organization (non-government) that does many things to support the army. Alternatively, you can donate directly to the armed forces using the special account created by the National Bank of Ukraine.
Transport — Availability mainly of pickups and minibuses is a very big problem. The Army needs thousands of them, and they don’t last long. Many Ukrainian volunteer organizations are chasing every pickup available in the Europe and it is getting more and more difficult to find one. If you can donate one (or a thousand) the easiest way is probably to contact Come Back Alive. But be aware — you will never see your vehicle again.
Helping refugees — If you are in Europe, then it is very likely that your country has hosted many Ukrainian refugees. They are mainly women and children. Now, after nine months of the war, they face serious difficulties with finding shelter, a job, or legal advice. Helping refugees is not easy.
Providing moral support is perhaps both the least complex and the most difficult thing to do.
CM: How have IT tools and solutions affected the battlefield?
VG: A lot. Starlink (the global satellite internet service pioneered by Elon Musk's SpaceX) is definitely a game changer. It is integrated into the military communication system and has replaced more expensive and difficult-to-maintain radio stations. The downside of that is that the whole army stays at the mercy of one eccentric guy (Musk) whose mood changes every day and who could turn off all the communication on the battlefield at will.
But Starlink is not the only one. There hasn’t been much innovation in terms of “metal," so to speak, in the last 30 years. All armies are either using weaponry that was developed during the Cold War or its somewhat improved analogues. What makes the old howitzer a new howitzer (apart from some advancement in the quality of the metal that slightly improves its characteristics) is automation. Automation speeds up the army's ability to quickly react to the rapidly changing battlefield environment.
Drones, satellites, intelligence, and networking are keys to modern warfare. In fact, the Russians use an enormous amount of heavy weaponry — artillery, tanks, and armored vehicles — and we have nothing but better quality to match them. The Russians made one big advancement in using artillery in connection with drones, but in other aspects, in my opinion, they still remain mentally and technologically somewhere between the war in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Being in a situation where we can only fire one shell in response to ten, we have to ensure that one shell does the job of ten. For this, you need better shells of course, but also a better understanding of situations, better reconnaissance, better and faster networking, and better mobility — and IT systems are key in all of that.
Speaking about IT and warfare in general, a lot of coordination and communication is still happening through regular social messaging apps like Telegram, Viber, or WhatsApp, even though they are not considered secure. At the very beginning of the invasion, the forces of defense (army, security service, and others) created bots and channels where people could send valuable information, and people used it a lot.
Another aspect that worth mentioning is the role of IT in a civil life. Some people say having a stable mobile connection and internet is more important than a stable power supply, or even heating. When staying online you get important information while it's still timely, so you can plan accordingly. For example, when another missile attack is about to start, we are notified about it in messaging apps. Moreover, sometimes we can track where missiles are headed, so you have an idea whether they are targeting your region or not.
Coordination is also critical in solving many practical everyday problems — anything from organization of an urgent blood donorship for another group of wounded soldiers arriving in your city, to the proper planning of your activities regarding a power outage.
People very often know how bad the outage is going to be, which districts will have power, and what to be prepared for. Businesses are also able to communicate how they operate in such circumstances, so you know which shops or gas stations work even when there is no power, what type of a battery did your local internet provider install and how long will it last, and so forth. Mobile services often report when they are running out of charge in some places so there will be coverage and so on.
PM: What is day to day like for you and the family? Are there bomb shelters? What do you do when bombing occurs?
VG: Life in Kyiv is more or less normal: The only real dangers are missiles or drone attacks. Ukraine is a big country, and such attacks have happened rarely so far. They could still be impactful, of course, since they often cause terror and target critical infrastructure. The Russians cannot destroy power generation, but they are trying to disrupt the network itself. This is the biggest problem so far, which has resulted in regular power outages, but it is not yet a critical issue.
We are preparing for it to get worse. People and companies are buying generators, wood, and everything else needed to survive the winter if there is a lack of electricity, or if critical infrastructure is not functioning
But so far things are rather normal. We have internet, often even during the power outages. Shops and supermarkets are working — many of them have found ways to work even during the outages. You can always find a pumpkin spice latte nearby. Some people complain that the selection of teas in the closest shop dropped (from 50 to 40), but this is something we can live with.
And it is not only shops and schools. For example, within the last week we visited a theatre and a fair. Fancy handmade candles were among the top products, but the fair overall was very good. We had to make three attempts to get there, due to the air alarms, but we did finally make it and liked it very much.
We do have shelters and try to balance their use. Air alarms may last for eight hours a day or even more (although usually they are not that long). Schools and other activities related to large congregations (like supermarkets) usually stop working and move to the shelter. We used the shelter ourself few times. But, as I mentioned, Ukraine is a big country and the Russians' capabilities of executing long-range strikes are very limited.
Thanks to the air defense forces and military aid from the West there have been no bombings in the classical sense, with aircraft leveling the city, like in Aleppo or Mariupol. During the last massive missile strike, a few missiles passed next to my window and were intercepted somewhere nearby with a big bang. That missile did not cause any devastation, but a few others hit the substation, which resulted in a power outage for a few days.
The war is still going on; missile attacks resumed after the G20 summit. We had a mysterious episode during one such attack. A woman in the village close to where my grandmother lived went to a cemetery to visit the grave of her deceased husband. At the same time one of the missiles was intercepted somewhere nearby and the shrapnel killed her. She was alone in the whole cemetery, and her death would be almost impossible from a probabilistic standpoint.
So, I’m not saying that everything is great, but rather that it is much better than it could be.
PM: What does the future look like for you?
VG: Speaking about the short-term perspective, the winter will probably be a difficult one. We’ve been told to prepare for potential long-term power outages (a week or more) in case the Russians succeed at disrupting the power grid.
Speaking generally, there are so many variables that it is difficult to predict. It is not a local war and we don’t know what will be the end of it. It could be anything from the prospering of Ukraine as a part of the European Union and NATO to a nuclear apocalypse with people living in yesterday’s metro stations and tunnels. And I do not mean Ukraine only.
Even if Ukraine is devastated but the collective West wins the war, there will always be a possibility to find a place in Europe or the United States. If Russia and its supporters win (and thus achieve a goal of the war which goes far beyond Ukraine) there will be no West in the way we know it now.
I believe that the positive scenarios are much more probable than the negative. So far, the reality somewhat exceeds expectations. Philosophically speaking, at least my future prospects are somewhat similar to yours.
PM: What are the obstacles to emigrating? Do you need a full-time job to do so?
VG: The first challenge, as mentioned above, is that are males are forbidden to leave the country. The legislation is so intricate and perplexing that sometimes different border guard officers have different opinions.
The second challenge is where do you go and what will you be doing there? Many European countries give shelter to Ukrainians, but this is more for those who are looking for a way to survive. It is difficult to get a good place to live and get a good job (or at least a job that matches your qualifications) if you are a refugee.
There are many places in Ukraine, Kyiv included, where life is almost normal. In addition to that, Europe cannot fit 30 million people. What they have done so far is above anything we could have dreamed of. But the capacity is limited, and they do share the burden of the war with us, so we should not misuse their benevolence.
At the end of the day somebody has to stay, fight, produce GDP, and pay taxes. Otherwise, what is the point of resisting the invasion? Thus my personal opinion is that those who can stay relatively safe, find a job, and be of any use to the country at this critical moment have to do so. Of course, the situation may deteriorate so much that emigration will be the best option to consider.
PM: How is your morale? How is the family morale?
VG: Oh, my morale is very high. The war reveals the most important values and makes many things much simpler. My family’s morale is good when there are no attacks. Personally, I think the kids feel much better here than in emigration. I should not omit the fact that Germany hosted the family in an absolutely exceptional manner — they had everything they needed, including a school and a very good attitude from the people nearby.
Still, it was difficult for them. Here, kids are going to school, playing with their friends, and I think they are in a much more comfortable environment — although safety is definitely an issue. Anyway, my younger daughter, for example, is heavily engaged with holiday planning!