Ukraine Stance by U.S. Tech Firm Epam Sparks Internal Dissension

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(Bloomberg) — Tension over the conflict in Ukraine — and the role U.S. companies should play in opposing Russia’s invasion — is playing out within Epam Systems Inc., a Pennsylvania-based company with a large work force in Ukraine.

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Dozens of current and former Epam employees sharply criticized a LinkedIn post from the company’s chief executive officer, Arkadiy Dobkin, that vowed support for Ukraine but didn’t mention or condemn Russia’s actions. Dobkin was lambasted on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

The strife is particularly pronounced at Epam, which employs more than 58,000 people, with 14,000 of them in Ukraine and more than 18,000 staff in Belarus and Russia, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The internal dissension had added to pressures on management already beset by business problems. On Monday, Epam plunged 46% after the company withdrew its first quarter and 2022 guidance,tow citing “heightened uncertainties” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

And it came as other companies in the U.S. and in Europe took steps to curb business ties with Russia, including BP Plc, Apple Inc. and Boeing Co.

Among the critics was a contractor for Epam who said he was blocked from accessing company computer systems after calling on top executives to assist Ukraine’s effort to counter Russia’s invasion. Some Epam employees, along with other Ukrainians and tech workers for other companies, urged Epam to take a tougher stance against Russia, such as helping to fund Ukraine’s military.

Maksym Chernikov, a Ukrainian native, said he urged the company’s leadership in an email to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine. He said he also encouraged Epam officials to provide resources to support a makeshift Ukrainian “cyber army” that has used cyberattacks to target Russian companies and government agencies. Chernikov said he works as a contract senior software engineer at Epam.

“Now it is extremely important that the company’s management show resoluteness in this initiative,” he wrote in the message, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News. “There is a war going on in Ukraine. And although hostilities are currently taking place on the territory of one country, this war will affect the whole world, everyone, if it is not stopped here and now.”

Within 20 minutes of sending the email, Chernikov said his access to the company’s internal systems was cut off. He said he doesn’t know if he still has a job at the company.

“I was blocked from all Epam internal communication tools — Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Outlook,” he said.

An Epam representative didn’t respond to requests for comment. Dobkin didn’t respond to a request for comment. He was born in Belarus, obtained a degree from Belarusian National Technical University and started his first private software company in Minsk, according to the company’s website and an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Epam, which specializes in digital product design, has more than 58,000 employees in more than 40 countries, including Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, according to a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the company’s website. “More than half our global delivery, administrative and support personnel are located in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia,” the company said in its latest annual report.

Dobkin, the CEO, wrote in a post on LinkedIn on Sunday that the company was “doing absolutely everything we can to save, help and support logistically and financially Ukrainian Epamers and their families.”

“Today we stand United in support of the people of Ukraine and against all forms of aggression against them,” he added. “The war must be stopped NOW.”

But his post was met with a fierce response, with more than 350 comments from employees and others on LinkedIn, many of whom weren’t satisfied with Dobkin’s remarks and criticized him for failing to mention Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin, by name.

Valeriia Nesterova, a systems engineer at Epam in Ukraine, said in a message to Bloomberg that the tensions among employees in Epam started before the invasion. In town hall meetings with employees in Ukraine, Epam managers said they didn’t believe there would be a war and said as a public company it couldn’t openly support Ukraine’s army. Nesterova said she and others were angry because other companies were offering support to Ukraine at the time.

She said that frustration has grown since Dobkin’s LinkedIn post. “There weren’t any encouragements to join Army, or volunteer IN these hard times,” she said. “Instead, they said “If you can work, work. If you can’t, take sick leave.”

Nesterova said the conflict has created tension her Russian colleagues. “I cannot say for everyone, but on my project where I worked, Russians didn’t write a single word of support,” she said.

Yuliya Prach wrote on Facebook that she has worked for Epam for seven years, but “right now I am beyond disappointed, I am furious with the company.”

“You have so much money, influence, power to help us out, but you prefer to just write some empty politically correct words and think that you did everything you could,” wrote Prach, who says she is a software engineer at Epam. “The truth is — you did nothing.”

Aleksandr Shcherbanyuk, who says he works as a developer for Epam in Ukraine, said he read Dobkin’s post huddled in his basement with his wife and two children, preparing for Russian bombs.

“Tomorrow is a working day at Epam, and I don’t know if I’ll live to see it,” he added. “I understand that our company is multinational and we need to be politically correct and restrained, but I beg you to help!”

(Updates with additional details throughout)

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