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Translating Through Hell. How To Survive In War-Torn Ukraine As An Agency


traduceri in Ucraina

On a chilly Wednesday afternoon at the end of February, Maria and her colleagues were leaving the office like they always do. In spite of a long day, they were in a good mood. Translations in Ukraine were starting to pick up once more, and she and her team were fully booked for months ahead. Their good mood was unhinged by the news that something bad was about to happen.

In fact, most people in Ukraine were convinced that February 24th, 2022 would be just another Thursday. That morning, Russia invaded Ukraine, the first 24 hours of a war that has recently surpassed 500 days. Nothing would ever be the same for Maria and her colleagues starting that morning, or for humanity. Yet people are resilient and keep going when challenged. 

With more than a decade of experience in the business, Technolex, Maria’s agency, kept pushing through rough times. They translated through suffering, death, and hell on earth. While bombs were falling down from the skies, she and her colleagues took cover in bunkers and, when the internet was somewhat functional, they kept going. Doing their jobs for the world.

Technolex team enjoying a day in nature before the war

The Thursday That Changed The World

We all read maybe a few dozen stories from Ukrainian people about how the war started, by now. They mainly begin with “We woke up to the sounds of explosions”. 

“The same was true for us. It was hard to believe but what had been long discussed on the news and in families, did actually happen. Events, messages, calls, actions, and thoughts rushed at enormous speeds, bringing us all into the new reality. As most of our in-house team was in Kyiv, some people tried and managed to move to the West of Ukraine, which seemed to be a safer part. Some decided to move to the countryside, some stayed where they were and prepared for whatever they could foresee. 

Some of our colleagues went abroad to ensure security for their children. One would think this all brought a total disorder to Technolex’s normal way of life. Well, it sort of did but we tried to keep in touch and regularly check in with our freelancers and team members around Ukraine to make sure the connection isn’t lost, and the people are safe. The top priority was our own lives and the security of our families. But the corporate chats were alive day and night, so we felt that in this disaster, our entire team was closer”, says Maria Malykhina, production manager at Technolex Translations Studio in Kyiv, Ukraine.

From that day forward, Maria’s colleagues rushed to get back to work as soon as they settled in relatively safe places, and the projects resumed. They went through terrible siege days with horrific consequences, through mass killings and destruction. And more and more life-changing dreadful news. Most of them found some psychological safety net in the stability of well-established working processes. Even if less than normal in volume, their work saved their mental health.

Kyiv metro stations turned into offices

“We were happy about that, but at the same time, it was quite a challenge to keep being productive after a night air raid attack and the constant danger during the day. People had to work in shelters with poor and unreliable internet connections. By shelters, I mean basements, wet, dark, and dirty. Nobody prepared those places for people, children, and pets to stay in for quite long.”

How to Keep Translating Through a War

They say the show must go on no matter what. For Technolex, the company had to stay functional, as the well-being of the employees depended on it a lot. So the team kept accepting requests, asking for longer turnaround times, and doing their best to be online with the clients despite the hellish situation on the ground.

“The shops in our cities were quite empty and closed early due to the curfews. Going outside could be dangerous, but so was staying inside as well. It was a challenge to find and buy the necessary things we were used to or to get mandatory medicine, for example. 

Together with the constant stress of looking for safer conditions for you and your family, it left little space for deep work. Nevertheless, our linguists walked the extra mile to finish their work on the tasks interrupted by air raid alerts. Many volunteered as translators or interpreters for foreign journalists or news channels.

Volunteering to defend the country was another thing that interfered with work. Many people enlisted or joined the territory defence units. We saw a certain decrease in volumes which freed up some time for life-saving activities. That is just ironic, and I’m only indulging in it now because we are happy to have most of our team still working steadily today, and most of our clients still with us.

At those times, we received many supportive messages from our clients and partners abroad. Thanks to our friends in localization, we managed to find safer places abroad for those of our colleagues who needed them. Those were incredible gestures of human kindness and help that we will never forget.”

Blackouts, the new normal during the first weeks of the war

A New Hope

Kyiv was under fire for months. Some people left the city to take cover, while others stayed in to defend and secure the capital. Just like with any other war, this one was also disrupting most of the regular daily life. Yet one terribly long and exhausting month into the conflict, the Russian troops pulled away from Ukraine’s largest city. And although bombardment kept going, the threat was now shallower.

“Our way of working didn’t change much. Many of the paused large projects renewed as time went by. Those that didn’t continue for us, just meant that many businesses left Russia, which is also good. The variety of domains in which we work daily has slightly changed. We definitely have less tourism, fashion and luxury goods to localize for. At the same time, we got a chance to open a large new military vertical and support our defenders in their training. 

Other fields remained relatively stable: IT (which is historically our biggest domain), the automotive sector, legal and medical translations and so on. We keep sourcing to extend our freelancer pool and hiring to strengthen our in-house team. The offline meetings became rare, but we organize them once in a while in our office, which has been open all this time. Even in the dark period of the power grid destruction. It was our “point of invincibility” with batteries, flashlights, coffee, some internet access, and alive colleagues to chat with.”

A Personal Touch

Maria has been with Technolex for over a decade now. She is passionate about managing translations and could do it non-stop. As we said, doing this for most of the day over the first months of the war was what kept her and her colleagues mentally afloat. It was the constant grinding through projects that kept her and the team safe from the most negative thoughts of their lives.

Downtown Kyiv at the start of the war

“Back in 2013, I started as a translator and editor and grew to be a production manager. This company is excellent. A Ukrainian business one is proud to work for. In a developing environment, we are a very stable structure thanks to the well-designed production processes and technology. I couldn’t be happier to belong in Technolex’s team. The team is a versatile crowd united by a shared passion for perfection in the language business. 

We used to enjoy corporate team-building activities, such as rafting or boat river cruises together before the war, which changed everything for us. But we are still a great team committed to delivering valuable results and entertaining our normal hobbies in our spare time. We are lucky to have our top management lead the company with great stability through all these uncertain times. And are endlessly grateful to those of our colleagues who went to the frontline to defend the country.”

The Future Is Bright

Ukraine is still fighting the Russian invaders in order to restore peace to its war-torn country. One and a half years later, the war is quieter but always present. In the back of people’s minds, there’s always that thought of immediate danger. But also, a sparkle of peace, lurking in the depths of their souls, waiting to find its way out and into the light again. It’s a game of waiting, of hope for a brighter tomorrow, more than anything.

Maria and her dog doing some work during a blackout

“The war months have been full of challenges. Among them, overcoming prejudice and misinformation to educate our clients on the true status of things in Ukrainian cities. Managing to deliver projects despite the power cuts and the exhausting horrible news. Running projects under the conditions of a dramatic resource shortage, where even a regular job becomes a tough task to crack. However, we have seen our team prove resilient, hard-working, and cooperative. And that is, I believe, the greatest positive of them all.”

Maria and her team strongly believe in the Ukrainian army and the world’s support. After they win, she says, Ukraine will start rebuilding. This era of their country’s reconstruction and integration into larger international organizations will be the time for translation companies to show their empathy, by harnessing all the available technology and resources to localize tons of information from and into the Ukrainian language. 

“And with the Technolex team alongside me, we’ll always be here to do our part. No matter what it takes, we’ll not back down.

We will never surrender.”

A Kyiv before the war, a happy family