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‘I’m here by choice’: Ukrainian tech entrepreneur details life and business amid Russian invasion

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MacPaw Founder & CEO Oleksandr Kosovan joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss developments in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, impacts of sanctions and what else companies and governments can do, digital asset contributions to victims, and continuing to run his company through the war to help others.

Video Transcript

BRIAN CHEUNG: Well, as we continue to cover the Russia-Ukraine crisis, we turn our attention to MacPaw, a tech company based out of Kyiv in Ukraine that despite everything, is doing their best to not only support their country, but raise awareness to the world about what's happening there on the ground. We now welcome in the founder and CEO of MacPaw, Oleksandr Kosovan alongside Yahoo Finance's Ines Ferre.

Alexander, thanks so much for jumping on the show especially during these times. You're a software developer. We'll get into that shortly. But just wanted to kind of ask first of all a human level, how are things there on the ground? You've been providing a lot of updates through your Twitter account, on social media. Just wondering, how are you and your family and your team members as well doing right now?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Yes. Hello, everyone. Well, I'm currently in the shelter in the basement of the building in my Tesla. It turned out to be a very convenient place. So my family is abroad, and they are safe. And this is very good, so I can stay here and help our army, help our people to fight with this crisis.

Well, I'm extremely grateful to Joe Biden for his early warnings of this upcoming crisis. We definitely used that time to prepare and get ready for the events like this. And definitely, we didn't expect, well, we couldn't ever imagine that they are possible and how it will be happening in the real life. But yet we were prepared very, very well. So the team is relatively safe. Yeah. Sorry.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, I was going to ask you, you know, you're right in the middle of this war, and yet you're also trying to run this company. What is your day-to-day like right now?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, we were ready to prepare the company in the way that it can work completely autonomously. So we don't contribute much to the code changes and the products. Our main job right now is to bring the awareness to the Russian people as much as possible in order to help them realize the horrible truth, and maybe come out to the streets to stop Putin. Because without this, I think it will be very, very difficult for the whole world.

INES FERRE: Oleksandr, Innes here. You've seen the Western sanctions that have been put forth against Russia. You've seen Western companies also and their responses. Do you think that this is enough? Do you think that more can be done? What else can businesses and governments do?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, definitely, this will hit the Russian economy hard, and the ordinary people will start feeling that something is going wrong. And I hope one they will see that they are not able to buy all these things they were not able to buy ordinary food, and something will click in their minds to say that, hey, maybe they are wrong, maybe Putin should go out of this place.

INES FERRE: And for foreigners that are watching this, people that are watching this, what message do you want to put out there? What do Ukrainians need? And how are you personally in your company also helping Ukrainians?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, definitely, the air defense would be great. But we've already heard today that NATO is not planning to be involved in this war, and will not help us to cover the air. Unfortunately, this is the weakest point our army at the moment has, and all of these destructions they see for the last several days, they're caused by air strikes bombing our cities.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Now, you're a tech company. You work on apps that can plug into to Mac computers. But what's interesting is that you have used the platform that the company has on Twitter to kind of share anecdotes about what's happening on the ground, how your employees are feeling right now. But also interestingly, about the cyber angle of all of this. We know that there has been NFTs that have been used to try to offer a little bit of financial support to those in Ukraine. I mean, how important is the tech community to what's happening there on the ground in the age of a war in 2022?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, actually, it is extremely helpful because all of the tech community are currently united to help Ukraine. So the tech community are making so much efforts to bring down the Russian propaganda websites, to bring down some state Russian websites, to highlight the events how they are happening in real life on the TV, et cetera, et cetera. So we try to use our tech capabilities as much as possible to break through the Russian truth firewall.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. It feels like there's a number of wars that are playing out here. Obviously, the military war, but also the disinformation war which many tech companies have stepped in to try and curb. With that said, we have seen Russian forces go after critical infrastructure. We saw that attack on the nuclear power plant overnight.

How are you preparing for a potential of an internet blackout, for example? And are there any thoughts here about moving operations outside of the country in the anticipation that there could be a potential power outage, internet blackout, other critical infrastructure being pulled?

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, definitely, part of our team are already outside of Ukraine. So they are working to maintain our products and stability of our services. But I'm here by choice, not by accident. I came here to protect my country. And I feel like this is my duty to do the way I can do it. I'm not a military man, I don't know how to shoot. But still, I can use my brain and technology in order to try to stop the war in any way possible.

INES FERRE: Oleksandr, you said that you're there by choice. I saw in one of your Twitter messages that Ukrainians throughout Europe, that you want them to have a shelter. You're there by choice. If the situation gets worse, will you continue to stay there? And lastly, what gives you sort of strength and hope and to keep Going

OLEKSANDR KOSOVAN: Well, Ukrainians are very creative nation. We used a lot of humor to support the things we do, to support our little but strong victories against the Russian military. And we try to encourage and help each other every day. And we feel finally as a huge one nation. So we are really united.

There are all the people in the city, around Ukraine are trying to support us to bring us whatever is needed. So in these times, if you have like some crazy request, consider it done. So you can request any several cars to that location, and volunteers are trying to find available cars and bring that in a few hours. So it's really, really exciting move.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, we hope you certainly stay safe there, Oleksandr Kosovan. Really appreciate you taking the time today. Please do stay in touch. We look forward to talking to you again, the founder and CEO of MacPaw. And our thanks to Yahoo Finance's Ines Ferre as well.