(CBS DETROIT) – “Look at it, it’s just amazing,” said Ukrainian-American Vladimir Gendelman, owner and CEO of Company Folders Inc., as he showed me cellphone video during an interview at his office in Pontiac.
Gendelman says he can’t believe his eyes as those on the front lines in Ukraine send him unimaginable images to his cellphone.
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He runs a business here in the Detroit metro area, and as of Friday afternoon, 6 of his 7 employees working remotely in Ukraine are currently holed up in some of the overrun areas, fearing for their lives.
“Everyone is extremely scared and don’t know what to do because there’s really no direction, instruction, nobody knows what’s going on, nobody knows what’s happening, they constantly hear bombs going off, they hear rockets falling.”
A photo he shows me shows a rocket driven into the ground right in the middle of an intersection.
Gendelman says people are taking refuge wherever they can.
“There is a metro and metro system there and in Ukraine the system is underground so it also serves as a bomb shelter, they told me how horrible these conditions are,” said Gendelmann.
He says people are packed in like sardines. This is also the case for two of its employees and their families who are currently staying with neighbors who live on a lower floor of their building, because the higher you are, the more dangerous it is. Since Marshall’s Law went into effect on Thursday, it’s even more risky for men to be on the streets.
“You get caught off the streets as a man between 18 and 60, you get dragged into war somehow,” Gendelman said.
He says that for now, his employees are just sheltering in place and securing the space they’re in by unscrewing patio porch lights so they can’t be seen, and taping plastic at the windows in case a bomb explodes, the glass does not break.
He says these employees have been with him for over a decade and it’s all heartbreaking.
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“It’s horrible to see people in pain, it’s even more horrible to see people you know in pain.”
Gendelman also sends money to employees so they can get food, water, shelter, emergency batteries and other adequate supplies so they can seek refuge in hopes of wait for the conflict to end. As they wait, Gendelman has told staff they should take care of their families and shouldn’t be working, but many are grateful for the normalcy and distraction work gives them amid the chaos.
A message from Gendelman’s Company Folders, Inc.
As a young entrepreneur, Vladimir Gendelman was passionate about learning and networking. The internet was just beginning to grow in 2003 when he founded Company Folders, Inc., and he was active in many online forums. Gendelman was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, and his family emigrated from the Soviet Union to escape anti-Semitism when he was a teenager. So he was thrilled to connect with programmers and designers in Ukraine’s booming tech sector through one of these forums. And he finally hired a Ukrainian web designer to create his first website to sell presentation folders.
As his business grew, he expanded his team in Ukraine to include software programmers, graphic designers and quality assurance engineers. Currently, seven of the company’s 16 staff members are in Ukraine.
The Company Folders US team is working around the clock to help move staff to less dangerous areas. They are in contact with a former US Army colonel who provides advice on Russian military targets and tactics. Combined with Gendelman’s intimate knowledge of the country, they were able to advise staff when it was safe to travel and where to go. They strive to keep them away from strategic military targets, transportation hubs and major cities.
“We are in constant communication, using Slack, Skype and WhatsApp, so if one goes down we can always communicate and help them share information about their experiences in the field, so they can each take their better decisions,” Gendelman said.
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