Binary Studio’s workers are part of what is estimated to be more than 1 million people who have fled the eastern regions since April, according to the United Nations, when pro-Russian rebels took over government buildings and declared independence from the Ukrainian central government in Kiev across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The exodus of young, innovative companies and their 20-something employees has the worrying signs of a permanent brain drain from Donetsk, a city that once had a population of 1 million and potential for leading the transformation of the region into a postindustrial economy.
Ukraine’s IT sector has been a shining light in the country’s struggling economy during the last several years, as international clients tap into the technical expertise and low labor costs in the country. Ukraine's IT sector was worth $5 billion in 2013, according to AVentures Capitals, a funding firm focused on Ukraine and Russia. Outsourcing in Ukraine brought in about $2 billion in revenue, with more than 50,000 people working in the field, according to AVentures’ data.
While Kiev and the western city of Lviv started out as the hubs of software development outsourcing, Donetsk was catching up, with several IT companies opening that specialized in outsourcing. Almost all of them have relocated their offices outside the rebel-held territories.
Eastern evacuees left in different waves and for different reasons. Some left because they supported the Maidan demonstrations that ousted the Donetsk native and Kremlin-favored President Viktor Yanukovych in late February. Many were artists, writers and the creative elite, who were targeted and harassed by the pro-Russian rebels for their Ukrainian views.
Middle-class business leaders made up a second wave, taking their business with them as tensions in the east jeopardized their profitability.
The majority of the evacuees left their homes behind to seek safety when their villages and towns became the front line of a military conflict that has seen both sides using heavy artillery in civilian areas. In many rural parts of the region, entire streets and neighborhoods were reduced to rubble.
“For intelligent businesses, there is nothing left in Donetsk now,” said Vladimir Voronov, 38, a Donetsk native and founder of an international branding agency that bears his name. He left Donetsk in April and took his wife and son to Kiev. “At this point, there is only a market for basic needs, such as food and shelter. There’s no opportunity for other businesses,” he said.