Companies struggle to withdraw employees from Ukraine and Russia
Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit employees from Ukraine and Russia, as President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has cut travel routes.
With many commercial flights cancelled, companies have turned to private security groups. According to Dale Buckner, executive director of Global Guardian’s security team, by Wednesday the Global Guardian’s 125-person team was able to charter planes out of Russia and land where needed to refuel.
But the expulsion of employees of 18 Fortune 500 clients of the confederation is becoming more difficult because of travel bans between Moscow and other countries restricting airspace.
“When we think of Moscow, we are looking to the Middle East – think of Iraq, Turkmenistan, Lebanon [and] Syria,” Buckner told the Financial Times.
From there, Global Guardian can send evacuees to the US or Europe.
Many of the group’s customers heeded Buckner’s warning about sending foreigners out of Russia in the early days of the conflict, with many employees likely to abscond on commercial flights. But for the rest, “it’s going to be a problem, potentially,” he said.
He said that travel to the Middle East “could be cut off at any moment”, meaning “we will have to go from western Russia to Moscow” and see what border is feasible, whether Finland or a Baltic country, because Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan are unrealistic.
“The legs of that journey started to lengthen,” he said.
Global Guardian has a 175-person private security team in Ukraine that performs between nine and 16 missions daily, sending 250 to 500 people out of the country on behalf of its corporate clients on behalf of its corporate clients.
“We have already evacuated more than 4,000 [people] to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania” from Ukraine, Buckner said. These are mostly Ukrainian citizens, employees of about 60 European and US clients, including 18 Fortune 500 companies.
While many Western firms, including consulting firm McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Accenture, have suspended or cut off client work in Russia, others have yet to confirm that they will withdraw.
According to people who work at a number of professional services firms with operations in Russia, one factor influencing their decision was the evacuation of employees and their families, who were concerned they might be displaced. enlist or be punished for working for a Western employer.
The companies are also wary of the Kremlin’s ability to pass legislation to prevent a “brain drain,” which would make “it illegal to take smart people out of the country,” a one of them said.
People at two international consulting agencies said their companies used security contractors to evacuate staff and their families.
On any given day, 78,000 to 200,000 employees of Global Guardian customers are being tracked in real time around the world through a mobile app that can determine which floor of the building they are on. About 4,000 other people downloaded the app in Ukraine when the invasion began. The Global Guardian has long been tracking around 3,000 people in Russia.
The app has a panic button, which is being pressed by people in the area three to four times an hour this week.
Extracting someone is about “good preparation, which means clean information,” says Buckner.
“I need an exact address. I need a contact phone number. Ideally, I need to let you know exactly when I’ll be available so you don’t get out on the street,” he explains.
“And then I need to give you cruise management. This is hard and you will be scared. And you might get shot and there might be a bomb going off. You have to understand that you are at war.”
Many clients do not understand that they are about to undergo a difficult and potentially difficult 5-hour journey from Kyiv to the Polish border. “The way the human brain works in these cases is really unique, because you see [the war], you know it’s real. . . but it still doesn’t seem to register,” said Buckner.
Evacuees do not exit the forest until they have safely crossed the border and are in the hands of another group of Global Guardians, a journey that can take between six and 20 hours.
And even though the group has the last name, anything can happen, Buckner said. No Global Guardian customers were injured or killed, and each vehicle had an armed agent.
Customers need to be prepared for freezing temperatures and standing still for 8 to 26 hours as vehicles can only get close to the border with heavy traffic. “You will probably go out and walk the last seven miles,” says Buckner.
He added that his company predicts the evacuation will take place for months.
Additional reporting by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York