Working in a conflict zone is often extremely challenging, stretching organizations as they strive to keep their employees safe. This has been observed in Ukraine, as businesses and organizations operating in the region often require specialist assistance to support employees. At the start of the conflict, this often involved helping staff avoid direct military action by traveling to safer neighboring countries such as Poland, Moldova or Romania. Now, as the crisis reaches a more protracted stage, organizations need to be agile and well-informed when it comes to supporting their staff returning to Ukraine as safely as possible.
A number of different industries are currently undertaking this process: agricultural firms, professional services companies, and NGO/media groups, as they look to resume or continue essential operations in Ukraine. Clearly, this is not a simple process, as specialist support is required to navigate all the risks still present in the country. Adaptability is also needed when carrying out this work. Security experts and business leaders must be prepared to act quickly as the volatile situation could rapidly deteriorate.
Evolving risk assessment
Conducting a robust risk assessment is one strategy for ensuring that the main dangers are addressed in any continuity plans. These assessments are vital when it comes to highlighting pressure points and ensuring that staff are supported throughout their mission. They also need to be constantly updated, as the volatile nature of crises requires that plans are updated as quickly as the crisis itself changes, or even preemptively where possible.
Ukraine is a prime example of this. The conflict has moved between different phases, with a fluid nature dictating the level of risk present in each region. For instance, NGOs have had to navigate the often-fragile humanitarian corridors and account for other prominent risks their employees might face. Risks that stand out at the moment include the continued direct military conflict, as well as periodic missile strikes. Additionally, unexploded ordnance (mines and other explosives), including around Kyiv, is an issue that individuals need to be particularly conscious of.
Handling all these risks requires great adaptability, as it’s impossible to predict exactly when a certain risk may impact an organization. Being flexible is key, and organizations must contend with the fact that the situation is still changing every day. As Ukrainian counteroffensives ramp up, the situation outside of areas directly affected by conflict will remain volatile as Russian forces may change strategy without warning. An uptick in Russian shelling and rocket attacks on cities well beyond the front lines, including Kyiv and Lviv, may occur with no notice. With the winter months approaching, the deliberate or incidental targeting of essential services such as electricity, heating and water will also pose significant additional risks to personnel remaining in or returning to Ukraine.
Another interconnected lesson from the crisis is in regard to the power of effective communication. It is no good developing detailed crisis management plans if they are not properly communicated to relevant staff. Employees need to be aware of the risks involved, as they should have a full understanding of the dangers present and how they may be impacted by them; each individual employee may have a different appetite for risk, making it essential that organizations are able to help employees gauge the level of risk present and manage their exposure to risk.
This goes for employees in the professional services sector in particular, as in many cases these individuals do not necessarily need to return to Ukraine to fulfill their roles. Many Ukrainian employees are now looking to return home to work remotely for a short amount of time, often returning to visit friends and family who are still there and taking goods home to loved ones.
Organizations should ensure that these employees are properly briefed on the challenges and risks of entering the country and given guidance on how to be as safe as possible once on the ground. This includes recommending precautions they need to take and information on the variable risk levels across different areas of the country. Some areas should be considered off-limits, and others will require enhanced support.
Clearly, operating in an active conflict zone like Ukraine is a difficult task. The challenges faced by all the companies returning to the region are numerous. There are many risks which require constant monitoring and risk assessments need to be carried out on an almost daily basis. The seriousness of the issue requires business leaders to be highly adaptive throughout this process, factoring new information into business continuity plans and risk assessment analysis.
In these types of crises, access to accurate information is vital. The scale of mis- and disinformation out there makes it even more important for organizations to have access to up-to-date intelligence about the conditions their business and employees face. With this information, companies can devise or tailor plans that prioritize employee safety, allowing for effective and safe returns to operations, even in conflict areas such as Ukraine.