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  • Writer's pictureJoAnna Haugen

War Gets Personal as UK Travel Brands Support Ukrainian Employees

by JoAnna Haugen

In the immediate days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the tourism industry galvanised its robust network of providers with a host of support and services: Airbnb opened up short-term housing for 100,000 refugees flooding the war zone. Deutsche Bahn offered free train tickets for Ukrainians making their way across Germany. And platforms like Hospitality for Ukraine popped up seemingly overnight so small travel businesses could offer Ukrainians a place to stay.

Image Credit: Explore Worldwide

I watched this outpouring of generosity from the tourism industry through a personally tinted perspective. As a recent resident of Kyiv, Ukraine, I was grateful for the tourism industry’s outreach, dismayed (but unsurprised) by accounts of racism during the mass exodus, and heartbroken by my friends stranded in the country, some of whom can not leave because they are Ukrainian men.

From Exodus Travel Foundation’s fundraising efforts with partner RE:ACT Disaster Response to Intrepid Foundation’s Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal, many UK-based travel companies have generously donated money to aid in disaster relief. Though this funding has helped on-the-ground humanitarian efforts, millions of people remain in Ukraine.

Image Credit: Lviv by Євгенія Височина on Unsplash

And, what happens to those sheltering in places across Ukraine, whether by choice or martial law? These aren’t nameless people. They are our friends — people with whom we’ve shared meals and created memories. They are our colleagues — people who have supported our travel businesses, are woven into our companies’ cultures, and showcased Ukraine’s beauty to travellers who visited before the war. Their stories and experiences add a personal connection to the broad generalities that often accompany national disasters.

Image Credits: Tetiana Shevereva and Taras Zaluzhnyi on Unsplash

“Staying in touch with them brought home to us what people go through during war,” said Andy McNulty, CEO of Touch Stay. The company is supporting the fund for Humanitarian Assistance to Ukrainians Affected by Russia’s Aggression specifically because its four Ukrainian colleagues requested this form of help.

McNulty reflected upon how quickly their team members’ lives were turned upside down: “Jane in Kyiv, for example, having to spend the weekend underground in a shelter, then showing up on Monday for our team call. And then telling us about her mother and grandmother in Mariupol, who she hadn't heard from in days due to no electricity, internet, or mobile reception, not knowing if they were alive. Or Sergii whose parents were in Kharkiv, having to get them out to safety.”

“We’ve been in touch with Ukrainian tour leaders, via our operator in the region, as well as a Russian leader of ours who has family in Ukraine,” said Kasia Morgan, head of sustainability and community at Exodus Travels. The company’s Ukrainian operator, who has been keeping tabs on local guides, relayed the following: “Of course this has had a huge impact on livelihoods in Ukraine, and suppliers and staff are anxious about their futures, but at the moment they are doing the best they can.” One local guide from Kyiv had just reported she had arrived in Warsaw, Poland. “She is staying there with one of our staff members together with her dog,” the tour operator said.

Image Credit: Exodus Travels

“They are being incredibly stoic, but they are sharing very personal stories of their families,” said Simon Grove, product director of Explore, of the company’s Ukrainian colleagues, who are currently in Greece, Poland, and Western Ukraine. “They don’t know what to plan for — a return to Ukraine, or a longer period in another country. They are fully committed to standing up for their country.”

Though no one will be visiting Ukraine for the foreseeable future, travel companies with Ukrainian staff are eager to welcome their employees back if and when the time is right. Touch Stay, for example, has assured its team members that their jobs are secure for the immediate future. “We value their work but, more importantly, it’s our duty to stand by them,” McNulty said. “We told them to take whatever time they needed, and to lean on us for anything.”

Grove echoed this sentiment: “We will continue to support our Ukrainian partners through this however we can — practically and financially — to get them back on their feet,” he said. “These are people we have worked with for more than ten years, and they really are our friends.”

Image Credit: Olga Subach on Unsplash

About the Author

JoAnna Haugen is an award winning writer, speaker, and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for almost 15 years.

She is also founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact, and storytelling. A returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer, and intrepid traveler, JoAnna is always on the hunt for her next great adventure. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


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