Nataliya Popovych 20 Feb 2023 // 12:53PM GMT
Just under a year ago I introduced myself to the readers of this publication - the global PR community - with an appeal “to support Ukraine as a nascent democracy defending both ourselves and the rest of the free world” as I tried to convey the shock and horror of an unprovoked war.
A year ago, I thought that the communications community responded. PRCA and ICCO quickly formed the Ukraine Communications Support Network (UCSN), which I now co-chair with David Gallagher, and through it countless individuals and agencies have volunteered hundreds of hours of time organizing dozens of projects to promote humanitarian aid, counter propaganda, and amplify campaigns from Ukrainian creatives. In fact, PRovoke Media changed the names of the geographical categories in its annual contest of cases and stopped inviting Russian judges and cases. We’ve been invited to webinars, podcasts, live conferences and even a major Japanese television documentary, all in the spirit of unity and empathy from colleagues around the world.
Yet there is much unfinished business, and what lays before us may be the most difficult work yet for the communications industry.
Twelve months after the first bombs fell on Ukraine, only one of every ten international companies with a local Russian subsidiary at the start of the war have completed the liquidation or sale of its Russian business. The other 9 are still contributing to the war machine, indirectly financing Russia’s war crimes through corporate taxes.
While they count profits, Ukrainians count lost lives. Since the beginning of the war, my worst fears have come true. In the past 12 months, the Russian forces have committed numerous crimes against humanity in Ukraine, including execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women and children; torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution and mock executions; rape; and, have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who are now subjected to Russification.
Many, if not most, of the businesses who remain in Russia employ communications experts or agencies, who know very well the moral, legal and reputational risks of continued operations in a country committed to crimes against humanity.
This is where the hard work really begins for the PR community. We must find the courage to advise our employers, parent companies and clients with unfiltered clarity: exit Russia now. There is no time left for empty promises and cynical excuses.
This week, B4Ukraine, a global coalition of civil society organizations supported by UCSN and advised by David and myself, will issue a detailed report titled 'Unfinished Business', documenting just how little progress has been made since sanctions were first put in place and urging G7 governments to use any mechanism available to compel companies to finally and fully leave the Russian market.
The special appeal goes to the largest communications agencies and their parent companies, who are suppliers to the world's largest companies and advertisers: based on our analysis, on average, multinationals with local subsidiaries in Russia earned just 4.5% of their global revenue in Russia before the invasion of Ukraine. It's a fraction that may be hard to justify in the face of the risks associated with remaining in Russia - help your clients leave and earn those incremental shares of revenues in jurisdictions that respect human rights and international law.
So, we’re asking our PR and communications colleagues around the world to help. Share the report. Amplify the social media content associated with it. But most importantly, take it and your professional and ethical obligations to heart, and help your employers or clients see that the best way forward is out of Russia.