Nejvíce nám výrobu komplikují sirény, říká česká podnikatelka na Ukrajině Michaela Macharik
"Sirens complicate our production the most", says Michaela Macharik, a Czech businesswoman in Ukraine
- Translation of the interview with Michaela Macharik, Co-founder of Time&Space Ukraine, published by E15 Online Magazine.
Read original interview in Czech language:
One in five Ukrainians secured a job in the Czech Republic through her company, which also operates a factory near Lviv producing parts for automotive and household appliances. However, the current closure of borders for most Ukrainian workers, and complications arising from the conflict, are posing challenges. How does one operate amidst the sirens of war, and why is she not planning to leave Ukraine? Czech businesswoman Michaela Macharik reveals this in an interview with E15.
How has the war affected your business in Ukraine?
My partner and I manage two companies in Ukraine. The first, Top People, provides Ukrainian workers to industrial companies in the Czech Republic, such as Continental and Trelleborg. We used to supply hundreds of workers, 99 percent of whom were men. However, when the war broke out, the borders were closed abruptly, and Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 were prohibited from leaving the country. This regulation remains in effect and has recently been extended until the end of November. Consequently, our business has collapsed.
Has the situation been resolved yet?
From March to July, we waited to see how the situation would unfold and began exploring new markets. The shortage of Ukrainian labor was so acute that the Czech government has since taken steps to address it. Employers also lost many Ukrainian workers who were in the Czech Republic at the onset of the war. Some of them returned to Ukraine to bring family members back but got stranded and never came back. Currently, it appears that the quotas for Moldova and the Philippines may be increased. As a result, we are opening a new office in Moldova next week, and we will start recruiting workers from there for the Czech market.
What about your other company?
It’s called Time & Space Ukraine. We have a plant near Lviv in Stryj with 250 employees. We produce wire harnesses for airbags and seat belts, as well as for home appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators. The factory continues to operate, but it is facing a number of challenges.
What are they?
At the beginning of the invasion, we faced problems due to a shortage of materials, a problem that was already present because of the pandemic. Then, the war introduced transportation complications. With men not being allowed to cross the border, there was a significant shortage of truck drivers. Since we export to European Union countries, this impacted us as well. This issue was resolved after about two months when President Zelensky approved an exemption for professional drivers. Currently, the air raid sirens are causing major disruptions.
Imagine that about twice a day, a siren goes off in your city. The entire factory has to immediately stop what they’re doing and run for cover in the warehouse, resulting in the loss of an hour of production time. Regrettably, our employees have to make up for this by working longer hours. Additionally, we are concerned about high inflation and the depreciation of the hryvnia. As a gesture of appreciation, we paid all our employees a one-time bonus in euros during the spring.
Do you travel to Ukraine?
Yes, I do. I visit our factory and spend, on average, about ten days a month in Ukraine. As the director of the company, it’s crucial for me to support our team, engage with them, and demonstrate that I am not afraid; otherwise, they might lose respect for me. We are like one big family.
Are you considering ending your business in this country?
No, Ukraine is my second home. I have spent approximately eight years of my life there. So, we are certainly not closing down; we are continuing our operations. We feel extremely privileged to provide employment to people. Many Ukrainian companies closed down after the invasion began, and those that remained saw their revenues cut in half. You can imagine the immense loss of jobs. The Ukrainian Government doesn’t have funds and isn’t providing unemployment benefits. Consequently, Ukrainians greatly value any job opportunities. If our factory were to be hit by a bomb, then of course, we would have to close. But, I believe the chances of that happening are very slim.
So, what are your future plans? Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?
We have recently succeeded in securing a tender from a large European company. I can’t divulge the details, but this contract should enable us to expand our workforce by 80 to 100 employees, which is very encouraging. We are also keen on attracting foreign investors to our region in Western Ukraine. For instance, we are contemplating the establishment of an industrial zone specifically for Czech companies in Stryj. Additionally, we have an unutilized space of 6,000 square meters that we would like to make available to a company from the Czech Republic. At present, the most impactful thing entrepreneurs can do for Ukrainians is to create new jobs within the country, and to do so immediately.
Do you have any projections on how and when the war might end?
I don’t believe anyone can definitively say at this point. I fervently hope for Ukraine to triumph, but that largely hinges on the support from Western countries, which, to me, seems to be waning as the West appears somewhat fatigued. Then, there’s the question of what would constitute a victory. The country is already ravaged; it’s an immense tragedy. I surmise that due to financial constraints, Ukraine might have to concede to some demands by the end of the year. Conversely, the morale within the Russian military doesn’t seem very high, so the outcome remains uncertain.