Israeli tech companies worry about their Ukrainian programmers

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The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is causing problems around the world, including the risk for Israeli high-tech companies, which rely on nearly 20,000 Ukrainian employees.

Recent years have set new records for the Israeli high-tech industry. According to the Israeli Ministry of Economy, high-tech exports of programming, cybersecurity and OCC (offensive cyber capabilities) soared in 2021. The strongest growth was the sale of Israeli start-ups, which increased by 257% compared to 2020. Programming services increased by 25% and R&D services by 15%.

Thus, the Israeli high-tech industry needs more workers, but the Israeli labor market alone cannot meet the demand. According to a survey conducted by human resources company Ethosia in December 2021, there were 21,000 job openings in an industry that employs some 350,000 people.

One solution is to hire programmers from other countries, through local companies that provide the necessary technological infrastructure and contacts with Israeli companies. In the past, India was the main supplier. Today, Eastern Europe – and in particular Ukraine – has filled this void. The current estimate is that more than 15,000 Ukrainian programmers work directly with Israeli tech companies, along with several thousand other freelancers and people providing support services to the tech centers, where these workers are located.

There are several reasons why the relationship has been so fruitful. Many native speakers of Russian and/or Ukrainian are already working in high-tech in Israel. The countries are in the same time zone, and they even seem to share a similar mindset. Ukrainian programmers have risen through the ranks of Israeli companies, and many are now team leaders or even heads of entire departments and divisions.

Ukrainian workers are skilled and highly educated, working for as little as half the salary of their counterparts in Israel or the United States. When working from home began to flourish during the coronavirus pandemic, it became even easier for Israeli companies to hire workers from abroad. Several Israeli companies have opened branches and programming centers in Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kyiv, so Hebrew is now heard frequently in local bars.

But that boom appears to be in imminent danger as Russian military buildup gathers momentum and fears of invasion are real.

The city of Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, is home to several branches of Israeli companies, as well as freelance programmers who work for Israeli companies. These companies are already planning for contingencies in the event of an invasion.

Many Israeli game companies PlariumThe developers live in Kharkiv. Other companies with development centers in eastern Ukraine include Playtika, Wix, and Fiverr. Outsourcing companies like Aman and Cellcom also have development centers in eastern Ukraine.

Peter Kolomeitz, who manages projects in Ukraine for Aman, has already prepared a plan to evacuate employees and their families to Kyiv, fund hotel stays for them and provide them with food. In addition, he is preparing to evacuate his personnel to Poland if necessary and is acquiring satellite communication technology for them. “We have already seen that unplugging the internet is a tactic used repeatedly by the Russians,” he said, referring to a series of cyberattacks on Ukrainian infrastructure attributed to Russia.

Other companies have approached airlines to charter flights to evacuate programmers and their families to Western Europe or Israel. These companies are also preparing for possible cyberattacks or denials of electricity and Internet connection.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a press conference that ties between Kyiv and Jerusalem are close and cooperation has only recently deepened. He added that Ukraine hopes to receive technology from Israel, especially defense technologies. A newspaper article in Israel claims that Ukrainians are particularly interested in Israel’s air defense capabilitiesincluding the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

However, Jerusalem really does not want to get involved in a dispute with Russia. Israel has offered to mediate between the two countries, with which it has friendly relations. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid furious ukrainians when he said that Israel does not believe there will be a war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, responded with an angry social media post, telling Lapid: “It’s not a conflict – it is a WAR, which Russia is aggressively and cynically waging against Ukraine… Sharing Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, I dare to suggest that if a full-scale war breaks out in Europe, Israel will will come face to face with the Iranian threat.

The incident is evidence of Israel’s reluctance to confront Russia, despite the firm stance of the United States and the West on Putin’s policies. For now, at least, Israel is held hostage.

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