The experience of PR during wartime

Behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine lies a massive army of PR and comms practitioners making Ukrainian voices more vocal in the world, tackling Russian propaganda, and supporting the reputation of Ukraine as an equal European democratic country. i spoke to some of them.
The experience of PR during wartime

Some old dead white dude said that the first casualty of war is truth. 

Ukraine is a country resplendent with educated, tech-savvy, digital-first folks. And according to Julia Petryk, when the Russian invasion began, they sprung into action to keep the truth alive by creating the Ukrainian PR Army.

A PR machine for real-time Ukrainian news 

Petryk told me that the Ukrainian PR Army 

"was founded within the first hours of the full-scale invasion. Hundreds of Ukrainian volunteers (mainly comms and PR experts) joined the initiative to spread the truth about the events in Ukraine." 

The main goal was to make Ukrainian voices more vocal in the world, tackle Russian propaganda, and support the reputation of Ukraine as an equal European democratic country.

And the impact has been profound. Over 7,000 publications have featured Ukrainian PR Army stories in more than 7,000 publications in world outlets and even helped twice to release Ukrainians from Russian captivity.

But how do you do public relationships and communication during wartime? I spoke to PRs to get some insights.

Going to work becomes something entirely different

I spoke to Olha Borovykova. At the beginning of the full-scale war, she was working as press secretary to a Ukrainian Government official. She currently works in PR and Comms at Edtech startup Mate academy.

We're in an era of work from anywhere, but in Ukraine, it takes it a massive step further. Borovykova told me: 

 "It could be a subway, a bomb shelter, a bathroom, a coffee shop, a car, or an office. We are getting used to the fact we can manage a lot of PR activities anywhere. The main thing is to spread the truth about the events in Ukraine and do it timely."

Your team matters more than ever 

According to Julia Zaplavskaya, PR and Comms manager at Aimprosoft doing PR and marketing is "the same as writing code in a war zone. It's complicated but possible". 

"Under such conditions, there is a reassessment of values. But the base remains the base: we are all human beings, both employees and customers. Aimprosoft is one big team, where everyone contributes, being at the same time concerned about families and their future, and at the same time influences the future of their country, and consequently the future of their children and grandchildren." 

Internal PR matters

While PR is often viewed as outward communication, internal information is just as important. According to Borovykova, "Internal communications should be carried out under any circumstances, regardless of temporary interruptions due to power outages or other changes in operational processes."

Dana Shestopalova, the International PR Manager at Roosh, agrees, explaining, 

"Informing, protecting, and supporting your team is paramount. The state of the team directly reflects the results your company can achieve." 

Borovykova shared that external PR helps to avoid any guesswork about how war affects the company's operations, "reducing the international fear of cooperating with Ukrainian businesses because of the war."

Forge new connections

Let's not forget that most Ukrainians in PR are doing an unofficial second shift, working as resources external to their country. Shestopalova advises her colleagues to connect with fellow Ukrainian comms specialists:

"We're all trying to retain the world's attention on the war whilst attempting to tell our own company's story, a challenging limbo. Often enough there are journalists collecting comments from a selection of Ukrainian companies, and leads like this usually travel by word of mouth."

Get offline

Shestopalova also thinks offline connections are valuable especially attending events and conferences: "The journey out of Ukraine has become increasingly complex, with hours spent on the road and at the border, most of the time taking between 2-3 days to get to your destination, but meeting your contacts offline really does make all the difference in your work going forward." 

There are new nuances to tech journalism 

Iryna Supruniuk has served as the Communication Lead and Editor-in-chief for TechUkraine for the last three years.

She recently launched the newsletter Ukrainian Tech Insider, covering industry news and focusing on defence tech & cybersecurity (you should subscribe, it's excellent). 

According to Supruniuk, wartime communications and tech PR have shed light on several issues: 

  • How Ukrainians overcome wartime challenges 
  • How business & tech help to tackle the total crisis (new solutions, products and services, humanitarian support, tech for good, defence tech, cyber war, etc.)
  • Bravery, achievements, scaling, and benchmarks by Ukrainian teams: tech giants, startups, clusters, initiatives, etc
  • Tech diplomacy: defending the reputation of Ukraine within global tech events like Web Summit (scandal with pro-Kremlin speakers) and Slush (Russian winner, startup fueled by Kremlin war which caused massive migration crisis in Europe). 

Some journalists make it a sport to dismiss the value of PR and comms people. 

Ok, I hate phone calls and emails that use the phrase "I'm resending this message so that it bubbles up to the top of your email." 

One tech editor from a "Tier 1" publication told me "I ignore all PRs and never read any press releases."

But he's the one missing out and the connections that comms specialists like PRs in Ukraine really provide. 

This article is part of's highlighting of remarkable Ukrainian startups on the one-year anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Read more ...

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