Entrepreneurship Innovation

UKRAINE: Victoria Gerukh CEO uTrigg Interview directly from Kiev

Viktoria Gerukh

Co-founder & CEO uTrigg
Kyiv, Ukraine

 

Note: This interview happened via email, and it has not been modified. It has been left in its raw form.

 

Note from Collabwith: As we host a digital platform for startups, academics and other innovation professionals to connect and collaborate, we have some of an incredible Ukrainian innovation ecosystem inside Collabwith. We contacted them to know how they are faring and if we could help. Collabwith aims to fight disinformation, and bring the stories directly from the startups, and academics in Ukraine and endeavour to help their country and Europe.

 

INTERVIEW TO UTRIGG FOUNDER AND CEO, VIKTORIA GERUKH

What do you do on the first day of the Russian attack on 24th February 2022?

We were living in Kyiv – capital of Ukraine.

Everything was peaceful since the 24th of February at 5 am. But we had the flu (or omicron or whatever), which caused a 38 degree temperature of our bodies.

At the end of 23th we`ve made final preparations for big marketing research for one of our EU partners. Traditionally the beginning of Spring is a big leap of customer behavior change on the market. So a lot of b2c brands have to stay inline with their new customers’ needs to propose empathetic recommendations. As our emotion AI analytics can do this in an innovative and GDPR compliant way.
I was planning to go for a slip at 5 am, but we’ve heard the first bomb in our life!!!!
It was scary, but we hope that it was some misunderstanding. “You can’t grasp that it’s invasion on your country and it’s really happening in 21th century! You just can’t. It can’t be so. It’s impossible!” – those phrases were repeated in my brain.
Still, we just stepped away from the windows. Take our pet Shu (chinchilla), as he is also a part of our team! And in such minutes you wish to save only the lives of your closest one. All those tiny creatures, whose lives depend on you!
After I’ve called my parents and sister. Since then we have contacted every 30-60 minutes and tried to decide when we will leave Kyiv to move to a more western city. In such debates we spend the whole day!!! We were hesitating because all the roads were filled with cars. So we will be just staying in traffic jams. That was our thoughts, can’t you believe in that? ;))…
Another complication, which we had – my co-founder`s (and partner in crime;))  parents were in a more eastern city! He was devastated to leave them there, as they are very close to military units. So we decided to relocate them to Kyiv and were waiting for their arrival by train late at night.
We’ve met them, tried to have a rest. As we haven’t slept for the whole 2 days already. But we can`t sleep. It was the longest 20 minutes of silence at the beginning of 25th of February. Only at 4 am did we finally move by car.
Only 30 km from Kyiv we thought that we were safe. But… we saw bomb just above us. Stopped the car. And hear the second one super close. Radio informed us that those sounds were from the Ukrainian air defense system. They literally saved our lives! Ukrainian arm forces continue to do this for every city that the russians invade, where russians killed people and marauding civilians. I’m deeply honoured about the skills of Ukrainian forces, as they have such a small budget for training, technology and experts! But ukrainians have strong will!
It takes us 27 hours non-stop riding on a wild road with a long tail of hurrying cars, a lot of traffic jams near bigger cities, several car accidents and hundreds of killed animals near the roads. Unfortunately, scary people are the worst power on the planet ;(  But they are all civilians. Each military block post was super organized, smiling and constructive.
Thankfully we have two drivers (me and my co-founder), so we had about 1-2 hour sleep each while on the road.
And we`ve made an alarm to other drivers about every frightened animal that we see along the road!
As we had to stay humans, especially in hard times.
How do you manage your emotions during those days?
At the beginning it’s like tasting some strange food. You can`t understand if you like it or you hate it. Or it’s even close to describe – when you are swimming under the water and you hear some noise (even somebody`s clapping on the surface). Under the water it sounds like a terrible thing. But you wish to return to the air in order to check if you were wrong about the danger.
You stay believing that everything is normal. And you just have some wild fantasy of danger.
I felt bothered, not scared. I felt strange about the whole situation, like I’m in somebody’s bad dream, or Apocalypse game.
I’m deeply depressed. As Our comrado, our CHO (chief happiness officer) – general Shu (our pet – chinchilla) died just yesterday from stress. He had a hard attack and he was slowly dying right in our arms. And those 10 minutes were too long, but not enough to rescue him with the right medicines (Dexamethasone with 0,1 ml shot, which was needed immediately or valerian, that he refused to drink). Definity, if not for this f**ing war, he would be alive right now. As all these stress factors make his end come much quicker – transportation during 27 hours in a car on our bad ukrainian roads, staying at another home, living in a cold flat, with some many nervous people and siren noises 5-7 times a day. All that ended his 9-years life ;)).
I’m still crying, while writing this to you.
And we have so many close friends that died from direct shots of russians. Direct, guys!!!
I can’t believe that our neighbours have so much cruelty!
Are you thinking of joining forces with the Ukrainian army to help fight against Russian invasion?

Yes, even though I don’t have a military education, or skills. I have only strong will, that this is our land and we need to fight for it till the very end.

We will not let russians become owners of our land!
I will fight in the information field – share news with European partners, colleagues and clients.

Also, if the time comes and we will have a fight face-to-face – I will use my secret weapon. I`m chemist by education. So “hell cocktails” for them are guaranteed!

Are you finding real support from international forces and humanitarian help? How do you get this support?

No, as I had my own friends in Lviv. So I used my own connections in order to support the family of my co-founder. In several days I also hosted another family of my relatives. So I was busy setting up everyone across several locations, asking my classmates to help with crucial heating devices, for making hot food/tea and organizing slipping points.

Only on the 3rd day could I have the luxury to sleep. I was so exhausted.
When I woke up, I strongly believed that all that madness was just my bad dream because it was 38 degrees temperature.
But it was our new reality ;))
What are you doing these days and how are you trying to help your country in this situation?
I’ve made a request for humanitarian support to partners and investors of my startup. We need specific things for fighters that we know personally.
If you can buy some specific things (as we have already empty shelves for such tactical things, that are needed).
Please, let me know via my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/victoria-gerukh-6a5b7622/
How are you doing with your uTrigg team? As CEO how are you helping them in this situation?

We’ve been in contact with every team member. I was dealing with payments and salaries right at the beginning of the war in order to show that everything is normal at least from this front.

Soon we will finally have a joint meeting with the team. Moral state is super important, so we need to share our worries, maybe cry (if needed) and set up a plan to make our IT fight more concrete and inspiring!
We need to listen to each other, share our human attitude (even bad things), but finalize with good things and plans for the future.
The biggest challenge right now is to wake up and understand that there is no good news at all.
So we need to keep calm, create strategy and make tactical things.
Only a transparent plan will save the world!

 

Ukraine has an incredible innovation ecosystem, how do you help each other between startup founders and other ecosystem actors? How are you dealing with the whole situation?

For now we were dealing with setting up ourselves, our relatives and only starting to help our fighters to conquer the invaders.

Still, I’ve already talked with several co-founders of other startups, who are totally into helping our army as well.
Maybe in a few days/ week/-s, we will form a webinar for co-founders to find a moral state to return to their startup growth.
I see that a workshop with brainstorm sessions regarding possible plans for sales, marketing and tech teams will be super in need.
Finding right partners, who can recommend positioning of our products on the new markets and/or resell ukrainian innovations – that would be a huge help.

We wish to stay a proud nation, who bring value to the global markets with our innovations!

What are your next future plans?

We will help our army as much as we can during day time.

At night time we will start transformation of our uTrigg version 2.0 to Poland and Italian markets. It was planned for a bit later.
But as we already have strong partners there, we will escalate our efforts
Additionally, we will stand into the informational war against disinformation!

So our enemies were disarmed, opened eyes to their russian terrorism and lost the quiet support from unwilling russian people.

What is the priority now for your country, Ukraine?

We ask to CLOSE the SKY under Ukraine, so russians will be forces to put away their bombs.

Our president is asking for this.
All we need is that every EU citizen come to the main street of their peaceful city and request that the sky for Ukraine.
I hope that you won’t hear bombs under your head, as we have right now! ;(
I hope that you won’t see your family members, your pets will struggle from stress, hard attacks and die because of that!!! ;((
PLEASE, stand for closing the sky under Ukraine – as it will save you, it will save the left part of my nation.
Maybe it will not save me, as the EU is too slow…
But it definitely saved at least some of my ukrainians, who are fighting for EU standards of life.
Stay for your safety today!

 

How can we help you most?
Helping with communication, boicots, bank transfers to NGOs, providing jobs to Ukranians in other countries or going directly to the borders to rescue people?

We need tactically a list of things for our fighters – find me in linkedin (Victoria Gerukh: https://www.linkedin.com/in/victoria-gerukh-6a5b7622/). 

And I will share with you fresh updates that I get every day now!
Strategically – we need to close the sky under Ukraine.
Only every EU citizen can force your governments to make such a decision.
russian – is our common enemy.
They are very tricky and canny.
Don’t let them frighten you, as fascists did!

 

****You can listen to our interview with Viktoria Gerukh in our podcast Business of Collaboration, exactly one year ago, here on Spotify*****

 

****We have setup an encrypted chat channel to support sharing support, helps, news between the innovation ecosystem, which means between startups, academics, innovation professionals, researchers.. anything we can help our research and innovation colleagues, will do. Join here the encrypted chat******

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