One year ago, the unthinkable happened: history, whose end had been (perhaps academically) proclaimed after the fall of the Soviet Union, came roaring back to life with a ferocity that shocked the world.
On 24 February 2022, the Russian army launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine aiming to swiftly take Kyiv and topple the democratically elected government. With broad predictions of a swift and inevitable Russian conquest of Ukraine, the United States offered former actor/comedian President Volodymyr Zelensky evacuation from the country.
He answered, famously: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
I wrote about my own experience leaving Ukraine on the day the war began. I was with clients in Lviv, working in my capacity as Head of Eastern Europe Advisory for CrossBoundary:
“…we drove towards the nearby border with Poland, walking the final 6km of road made inaccessible by the flow of newly minted refugees. Upon arrival at the border, we spent eight hours slowly transiting the crowded gates. Time and again we witnessed the tragedy of families splitting up as men, who will stay to defend their homeland, said farewell to wives and children at the threshold of safety.”
Despite the ruthless onslaught upon its people, culture, and civilian infrastructure, today Ukraine stands firm, defiant, and steadfast in defence of its freedom and independence.
In the weeks and months immediately following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I remained in close contact with friends and colleagues across the country as they faced the violence and uncertainty of war.
At CrossBoundary, we engaged immediately with a rapidly evolving global response. We worked alongside a broad array of individuals, organizations, and businesses – from global companies to scrappy startups – scrambling to deliver crucial support to the Ukrainian people.
What rapidly became clear was the humbling magnitude of the global response: the awe-inspiring fortitude and resilience of the Ukrainian people was matched by the energy and ingenuity of people from around the globe who stepped forward to lend their time, talents, and funds to support Ukraine in an hour of unprecedented need.
We have continued to focus on connecting CrossBoundary’s network of global partners and clients with challenges they are uniquely positioned to help solve.
Everest Effect, an innovative digital platform that uses advanced data science to verify humanitarian needs, organize effective response, and measure impact, is applying its powerful analytical toolset in support of the Lifeforce Project, an initiative of the UN’s AI for Good program that is harnessing the power of AI to coordinate needs matching and response in Ukraine.
When CrossBoundary’s interactions with partners in Ukraine indicated an opportunity to support the work of the government’s ProZorro procurement platform in applying data science to bolster the work of the Prozorro+ needs matching program, we reached out to Everest Effect CEO and peripatetic data science entrepreneur Paul Gilson, who responded with alacrity.
Leading global impact investor Triple Jump reached out to CrossBoundary to explore ways to provide direct support to Ukrainian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) impacted by the war. This led to a unique partnership between Bank Lviv – a CrossBoundary client and SME-focused bank headquartered in Lviv – and Oxfam Novib, a close Triple Jump partner.
Oxfam Novib provided critical supportive grant capital which Bank Lviv channeled to qualifying SMEs across western Ukraine, bolstering their capacity to sustain jobs and economic activity amidst the challenging conditions of the war.
Investing in Ukraine’s economic resilience
By summer 2022 and into the autumn, as the strength of the Ukrainian defence of its homeland became clear, global discussions broadened from a focus on immediate humanitarian response to a wider conversation on investing in Ukrainian economic resilience and, ultimately, reconstruction and recovery.
CrossBoundary began to engage with a diverse mix of impact-focused investors actively seeking ways to to do this, with the CrossBoundary team supporting investment strategy and pipeline development, fund structuring, and efforts to build local networks and teams.
We have worked closely with the Geneva-based Peace Dividend Initiative (PDI), a mission-driven organization that aims to channel investment into conflict-affected areas in support of sustainable peace. With deep experience operating in some of the world’s most challenging theatres and direct engagement in the frontline areas of eastern Ukraine in recent years, PDI engaged with CrossBoundary to advance their vision for a Ukraine Impact Fund to invest directly in Ukrainian SMEs. Today that vision is rapidly evolving into a reality.
There has been a tangible shift in the global discussion amongst Ukrainian businesses, governments, donors, and investors – starting with brainstorming and exploration in summer 2022, the tone shifted to cautiously optimistic planning in the autumn, and further to today’s active phase of building teams, developing investment pipelines and plans, raising capital, and preparing for action. Today, CrossBoundary is working with several Ukrainian firms that are boldly advancing plans to expand productive capacity and employment, responding to the shifting trade patterns and logistical complexity of the wartime economy.
At the same time, CrossBoundary is supporting investment teams as they assess opportunities and actively engage both global investors and potential investee companies in Ukraine. Governments, NGOs, and private sector players are responding with action to the remarkable example of courage and resilience that Ukraine has provided to the world.
In late January, I traveled to Lviv to meet with our clients and partners. Listening to colleagues and friends, it was clear that no life in Ukraine is far removed from the agonies of war inflicted by the Russian invasion.
However, it was equally clear and deeply moving to encounter face-to-face the intrepid resolve and indefatigable spirit of the people of Ukraine. I felt this in every conversation with the Bank Lviv leadership team, whose purpose, passion, and professionalism I have come to know well in recent years as I’ve witnessed them build a leading SME banking business in western Ukraine. Their commitment to clients, community, and country is a humbling example of the strength that will form the foundation of Ukraine’s future.
My visit also offered me the opportunity to meet the management team of Central Plains Group and see their operations. The group continues to develop their top-quality potato business by expanding their high value-added product line. In spite of the war, they are investing and generating new employment in rural areas of western Ukraine. The efforts of Central Plains Group will add critical export revenues to the local economy, offering a glimpse of the future of Ukrainian agribusiness: rich agricultural land combined with technology and superb human capital, and integrated into the broader European and global economy.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has destroyed innocent lives, caused large-scale human suffering and senseless destruction. The instability has threatened global food security and caused dramatic upheaval in global trade and markets. Virtually no part of the world has been immune from the ramifications of the conflict.
Nonetheless, a wiser man than I once observed that “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” The character of the Ukrainian people, revealed in these darkest of times, leaves me humbled, amazed, and more convinced than ever of the limitless potential of Ukraine and the bright future ahead of it.
Scott Richards is CrossBoundary Managing Director & Head of Eastern Europe Advisory.