WASHINGTON, DC — In a sober but stirring address to PRovoke’s Global Summit, the head of One Philosophy, Ukraine’s largest comms agency, urged strategic communicators ‘turn their talents and time’ towards persistence with clients or activist action.

Natalya Popovych, who was given an Individual Achievement SABRE award in 2022 for her work tackling misinformation around the war, said Western companies were still playing a role in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“Western companies prolong this war by not defunding it, not leaving, they continue to fund it through corporate taxes, tech transfers and the legitimisation of war for ordinary Russians,” she said. “We’ve been too silent as strategic communicators to present our case in a way companies would see how much risk they’re accumulating in staying in that market.” 

Popovych said many strategic communicators were ‘under the table’ when it came to guiding CEOs towards ethical and business decisions.

“We haven’t seen many resignations of CCOs or seen them commenting or urging CEOs to speak. We’ve seen a lot of large agencies leave the Russian market but we haven’t seen many of them able to influence their top clients to withdraw.

“Overall we’ve been failing in our role as strategic advisors since 2014 because we haven’t forseen all the risks.”

And she urged against complying in covering up for profiteering from the war or advising the C-suite to ‘shut countries like Ukraine down with donations.’

“There’s a magic figure of $15m offered as a donation to humanitarian causes in Ukraine as long as businesses continue to operate in Russia.

“Please believe me, the price of every single free warrior in Ukraine ready to sacrifice their lives so people in the world can have freedom and dignity is much higher than $15m.”

Popovych said she believed communicators had the values and belief in humanity necessary to act, but “I feel that when life and death decisions, existential moments in history come up, communicators are sometimes nowhere to be seen.”