KYIV — Ukrainian agencies are responding to Russian assaults by sharing their experiences about the reality of how they are continuing to operate on the frontline of war.

Agency leaders are focused on their teams staying safe throughout the attacks, above all else. Kostiantyn Gridin, partner at CFC Big Ideas in Kyiv, said: “Our business for now is not a priority. The priority is the lives and safety of our families and the future of our country. We do everything we can on the informational front to make the country win, and evacuate families away from hot spots. After the war is over we can go back to business.”

Veroslava Novosilnaya, founder and CEO of Kyiv-based Slova Tech PR, which is supporting the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s communications team in getting key messages out and combating misinformation and disinformation, said: “Right now, the business is 20% for clients and 80% for Ukraine. We are helping with the right communications to support Ukraine and win this crisis.

“My team are writing media pitches in basements and shelters and trying to find a signal on their phone. Another team member has gone to her family in the West of Ukraine and is supporting her country by being a humanitarian volunteer near the Russian border. I’m really worried about and proud of my team, they are heroes.

“I don’t feel like I have a business at the moment. We usually work with tech start-ups and VCs and help international brands to enter Ukraine market. But right now, the only thing needed is crisis communications. As a PR agency, our work is to help people to understand what the truthful information is, how to fight misinformation, and build communications that can encourage our people and army. It’s a war, and an informational war; we’re entering a new era in information so we need to use it. If we don’t, Russia will use it – and they have had time to prepare for it.”

Kateryna Didkovskaya, director of M&P Communications in Kyiv, said her agency’s clients have stopped brand and corporate communications because “any communications except urgent life-related and war are irrelevant now.” She said although the firm was not an internal communications specialist, “we are now focused on internal communications and help with social media, because it is what's needed for Ukrainian people and for the world: to know what’s going on in Ukraine from us.”

At United Partners, which is based in Bulgaria and operates across Eastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, owner and CEO Maria Gergova-Bengtsson commented: “In these dark hours, we are the voice of many companies, people, communities. Our role is to stay calm and professional, to respect people's emotions, keep an eye on the news, be aware of fake news, assess the sentiment of the communications, and call for unity. Being separated during the pandemic and united in the face of war is the paradox of our century.

“Since the start of the conflict, some of our clients are reconsidering their behaviour on social media – some influencer campaigns are on hold or cancelled – due to respect for what is happening in Ukraine and its people. We have noticed an increase in the requests for media monitoring and crisis reporting. We stay alert and provide communications support to our clients. Decisions are taken day by day. In these hard times, we need to stay humans and to show empathy and support for each other - as individuals and as a community.”

Meanwhile, in Moscow, many local agencies are reluctant to speak out about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but those who did respond to request for comment expressed their concern.

At Buman Media, managing partner Natalia Bucelnikova said: “We are worried and saddened by the situation. As a company engaged in building and maintaining reputation and public relations, we strongly support civilized dialogue as the only acceptable way of communication between people.

“We keep working, but recommend all clients to hold a pause in public communications until the vector of the situation becomes clear. We are working hard to help both foreign and Russian clients get through this difficult time smoothly, and right now we are particularly focused on ensuring safety and peace of mind of our employees and their families. As the situation evolves, we will certainly offer further options for diplomatic and successful communications in the Russian market."