The conflict in Ukraine has created a mass exodus of people and businesses, bringing with it shifting foreign investment flows across Central and Eastern Europe.

Poland and other governments opposed to Russia’s unprovoked military aggression have rolled out support for affected companies, including making it easier for them to hire Ukrainian refugees.

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“We are doing a lot of relocation projects right now,” Grzegorz Słomkowski, a member of the management board at the Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH), told fDi.

He says that several automotive suppliers have enquired with the PAIH about relocating their production to Poland from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. 

Aptiv, an Ireland-based automotive technology supplier, has already confirmed the movement of its operations out of Ukraine. Joe Massaro, its CEO, said in March 2022: “We are moving our customer programmes out of the Ukraine [and] putting them into our facilities in Poland, Romania and Serbia. We have some capacity in Morocco as well, if we need it.”

In September 2020, the PAIH launched the Poland Business Harbour, a response to mass anti-government protests in Belarus over the allegedly rigged re-election of president Alexander Lukashenko. “We want to position Poland as a safe, secure place in Europe,” Mr Słomkowski says. “There is very big potential for people who were before in Ukraine, Russia and all those Putin-related countries.”

Across the Baltics and other countries in Russia’s neighbourhood, government agencies have mobilised to help Ukrainian refugees. In Lithuania, the government has removed several regulatory obstacles to obtaining work permits, with new exemptions introduced.

More than four million Ukrainian refugees have been forced to flee the war in their country, according to the UN.

Relocation and staff protection

The headquarters of software development firm CHI Software, located in Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city close to the Russian border, were damaged after Russian forces bombed a nearby sports complex. The company said in a statement last month that its staff located in Kyiv and Zaporizhzhya were also under threat. 

CHI has relocated 80% of its local staff body, with office spaces secured in the Ukrainian city of Lviv and the city of Kraków in Poland. The software business aims to keep its “current operations as close as possible to pre-war conditions.”

Another Ukrainian software development company, Diceus, has moved all its local staff to safe locations and formed a new office in Wrocław, Poland to secure operations. Elsewhere, Solve.Care, a healthtech blockchain firm, has established a new entity in Budapest, Hungary, for team members evacuated from Kyiv.

Another major outbound investor from Ukraine is Lviv-based Intellias. Building on an existing global presence, the company has announced the opening of three development centres in Poland and the creation of 200 jobs. 

Its local workforce already includes employees relocated from Ukraine, with the company successfully evacuating 300 staff members and their families to safe places. 

Viktor Hayden, Intellias’s vice-president of growth enablement was quoted last month in the Wall Street Journal saying that the company plans to increase its footprint outside Ukraine “to be able to relocate our Ukrainian people when [the] situation allows, and to be able to hire new engineers” in the markets where it has a new presence.

Moral dilemma

When the war first broke out on February 24, multinational companies were caught in a moral dilemma in helping evacuate expats over their local national staff in Ukraine

Dale Buckner, the CEO of private security group Global Guardian, previously told fDi that “most firms did not have a plan for their local nationals”, adding that “it was almost an afterthought”.

While the situation continues to develop, early indications are that Ukrainians are already staking their claim in neighbouring countries to ensure business survival.