Irina Kravtsova is General Counsel of the Ukrainian subsidiary of a European business, founder of the General Counsel Club in Ukraine, and a current PhD student. She lives in Kyiv.
Irina shares with Crafty Counsel what it has been like to be in Ukraine since the invasion by Russian forces on 24 February.
Could you share a typical day since the war started? Is there such a thing?
February 23 was a usual business day. It was Wednesday and it started with a ManCom online meeting at 9:25 am where we discussed our daily plans. The day was full of routine work: review of agreements, giving feedback on requests and questions, a few calls and elaboration of the business procedure. But, as “something was in the air”, I called my friends and asked their opinion on the ongoing situation and the possibility of an invasion by Russian military forces. Neither my friends, nor my colleagues or anyone else with whom I discussed this question, expected that Russia would start a war on Ukraine. I had planned a vacation that was to start in a few days, so that night I went to bed dreaming of my trip to Uzbekistan and thinking about the clothes that I would take with me.
February 24. At 5:45am we were awakened by a call. I understood that something happened and with every sound of the vibrating phone, my anxiety levels increased. I’ll never forget how my boyfriend told me “It has started”. Everything was said in this phrase. His friend called him to inform him that their native town has been bombed. In the next second I heard the sound of two explosions. That’s the moment when you clearly don’t understand what to do: to run, to stay, to hide and if to hide, then where… The street was busy, because it was daytime. Even though it was only 6 am, the streets were blocked with traffic jams and people were running everywhere. Almost all the neighbours in our big residential block were stuffing bags into cars, picking up children and pets. Everyone was in the rush. We started to pack bags too. For the first time I realised that my whole life can be packed into one bag and the things that you’re taking are not luxurious and glamorous stuff but warm and comfortable clothes and shoes with which you can easily run, hide and sleep. Everything that was so priceless yesterday became so meaningless today and vice versa.
We stayed in Kyiv for a few more days and only left when I felt that I couldn’t deal with the inner panic, caused by numerous air raid alerts and flying rockets over my head, so we moved to another city where my parents live. But, nowhere is safe in Ukraine now. The sound of air raid alerts is heard in every region, no matter whether it is west or east, north or south.
What would you want in-house lawyers in the rest of Europe, and the wider legal sector, to know about your situation?
I would like to separate my messages into two parts.
First, as a human being, I would like to remind people of their humanity and that it is the foundation of life. Without it, this world has no chance to survive. If people lose their true human values, they will lose this world.
War and illness are two circumstances that are beyond your control. Everyone is equal before war and illness. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, occupying a top position or just starting in your career, having a doctor’s degree (PHD) or whether you are a student, your appearance and clothes don’t matter at all. The only thing that makes you different is your inner values. Are you able to share the last piece of bread or give the last sip of water to someone who’s near you? Are you able to give a hand to those who need it if by doing that you lose your comfort? If you’re running away, should you take one more additional bag with luxury stuff or, instead, take your pet? Ask yourself these questions. Find true values that really matter to you.
Second, as a legal professional who suffers from the war, it’s important to underline that the war started without any notification. Neither from legal, nor from the business side is it possible to be fully prepared, so that you are totally on the safe side. Especially as it relates to businesses that have fixed assets, like plants, warehouses, shopping malls. You simply can’t put them into your pocket. Surely, business plans should be elaborated for different kinds of urgent cases but no inner procedure will be able to stop tanks and rockets.
Another question is ethical norms that multinational companies implement. Many ethical norms are only declared on paper. That means that companies implement them only for attracting customers and increasing their profits. Companies conduct ethics audits inside the company and on the supply side, but when it comes to fulfilling those declared ethical principles and profits may be affected, then companies start hesitating or saying that they stay out of politics. However, if the company does business and pays taxes in a country with military forces that kill children, pregnant women, ruin hospitals and schools, isn’t it a violation of their declared ethical norms and basic principles of humanity? And a direct support of the aggressor country?
The Russian-Ukrainian war shows that international defence organisations and other institutions don’t work. Treaties are signed but not fulfilled. Principles of work of international organisations should be relooked, while gaps in the fulfilment of treaties must be removed.
How can we help?
I strongly believe that everyone can help the fight against aggression. It’s not necessary to take a weapon into your hands. Your weapon can be your voice or stretched out hand of help. The worst that you can do is nothing. As Albert Einstein said “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
Why does your voice matter? Every voice against war makes a loud sound. Your “NO” to war may reach out to many frozen hearts and minds. If you stay silent, it means you support the war and numerous deaths. Your voice can have an impact!
It’s easy to donate and help volunteers to gather clothes, food, products of first necessity and medicine. People who have to run from war have almost nothing with them. They leave their homes behind with no certainty of where they’ll go. They don’t know where they will stay, what they will eat and whether they will be able to get medical treatment if they fall ill. The war impacts children in particular. I’m sure if someone gives a toy and some sweets to a child, the child’s life will be brighter. But not only refugees need food and clothes. Many Ukrainians are staying in the ruined and Russian occupied cities. Many private and residential houses are ruined. Everything that people had, is now buried under the ruins. In the occupied cities, towns and even small villages, people are staying in their basements for weeks without food and drinking water, while Russian soldiers shoot those who try to leave their basements to get supplies. In Mariupol a small girl died in the basement because of dehydration. The rescue team said that the girl’s mother had also died in the basement.
While they leave Ukraine, refugees don’t have places to stay. They usually stay in shelters and don’t have normal living conditions. It is possible for people to host refugees and I would suggest that people do that if they have space available.
We are all reading and watching news of the war. What might those outside of Ukraine not know?
It’s difficult to say what those who live outside Ukraine don’t know, as I mostly watch Ukrainian news, follow messages from friends and other Ukrainians in different social media and groups and only sometimes read articles from foreign publishers. For those who are staying in Ukraine, it is extremely important to be aware of the latest news, in order to understand how close the enemy is and how safe the place you are staying is. I think that people outside Ukraine get general information on what’s going on in Ukraine while we are watching the terrible details of the war. What I can say for sure is that the immense pain and sorrow that Ukrainians feel here cannot be transferred through TV and Internet.
How are you copying personally?
My family is my fortress. They inspire, motivate and give me enormous strength.
Also a great support comes from people all over the world. Even a small message from someone saying “I stand with Ukraine” makes me feel that I’m not alone.
Above all, it is important to have faith in victory, life and the future that no doubt you will have.
What are your hopes for the future? Six months from now… and five years from now?
I have no hopes but I am confident that the Ukrainian nation will win the war. And we have already won it because the world saw us as a nation of heroes who stand for their land and freedom. Through blood and sweat we forge our spirit and in the coming years we will rebuild our country and make it even more beautiful than it was before this senseless war.