Bohdan Senchuk, President of the Swedish Business Association (SBA), told LDaily how Swedish companies in Ukraine are enduring full-scale aggression by the russian federation, how they have reformatted their activities, how they are assisting our defenders, and what they see as business prospects in Ukraine.
LDaily: How has the Swedish Business Association’s work changed in wartime? What challenges are you facing now?
B. Senchuk: The full-scale aggression by the russian federation has made significant adjustments to the association’s activities. With the onset of aggression in February 2022, the association and the Swedish companies that are its members were actively involved in the relocation of employees, at least to the western part of Ukraine. Many specialists who are not subject to military service moved across Ukraine’s western border. We were actively involved in facilitating and assisting in finding housing for employees moving to western Ukraine, communicating with them, and providing moral support.
All employees, as individuals and citizens of Ukraine, mobilized their efforts to assist the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Some of them were mobilized and are serving in the army to this day. On the positive side, there was significant coordination among association members, among company managers, to help one another, to preserve life, and to provide conditions for continuing work, regardless of where employees of Swedish companies are located, in Ukraine or abroad.
The full-scale war, of course, was unexpected for many, but each company has a so-called contingency plan, and it was simply implemented. Therefore, there was no panic – just the usual execution of a plan in case of emergencies. In our case – military action by our neighbor, the russian federation. So, our activity changed in the direction of reducing the challenges that the companies faced, to help, advise, suggest, and coordinate certain efforts to the extent of our abilities. We also evacuated from Kyiv for some time to the western part of Ukraine. So the decision-making center shifted from Kyiv to Lviv.
LDaily: Are you in Kyiv now?
B. Senchuk: Yes. At the end of May 2022, we returned to Kyiv and have been here since, working and coordinating our work from here.
LDaily: Are you noticing an increase in demand for your services in connection with the full-scale invasion? If so, what specific requests are coming to you?
B. Senchuk: Life-critical needs have changed – now they lie in aiding the mobilized employees of Swedish companies. To ensure the business activity of companies, questions arose regarding the reservation of key personnel. There was some communication with government bodies responsible for making such decisions. These efforts should be viewed from the perspective of social responsibility. Those who were mobilized, in the search for necessary items for life protection: body armor, helmets, were assisted by the companies and each employee personally. Perhaps the needs have changed everywhere, but this work continues at the level of each citizen as a civic duty: either to serve in the ranks of the Armed Forces, defend the statehood of Ukraine on the front lines, or personally assist those who serve on the front line with one’s capabilities. So, one can say that those who are not mobilized and are not serving in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, almost everyone at their level and within their capabilities is a volunteer and solves the issues that are in need.
I can say that the war that came to Ukraine, on the one hand, brought many challenges, but on the other hand, it contributed to the enormous mobilization of resources from every team member in companies. Everyone responsibly joined in doing everything possible to stop the enemy. And when the invasion occurred on the territory of Kyiv region, everyone in Kyiv who had the ability to defend with a weapon in hand received the right to do so, just by presenting their passport, and took up arms to protect the city of Kyiv. Everyone made their decision according to their abilities and military skills, so there was no indifference. Of course, one must understand another fact – that when active military actions are taking place, there is a rule that civilians must be evacuated so as not to hinder the work of the military. Either each of the citizens takes up arms and defends their territory in the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF), or in another way, or does not interfere with the military’s actions. Of course, all companies conducted the evacuation of employees from zones of active military operations, primarily to save the lives of employees, not to expose them and their families to risk, thereby enabling the military to work, assisting them in whatever way they can.
I can’t talk about investing, because investments in such a risky period are unlikely. Considering Swedish approaches, prudence, and risk minimization, we hope that active investing will begin on the first day after the war ends with Ukraine’s victory. Currently, there is active preparation for investment projects, an analysis of opportunities to invest in certain areas or in the latest equipment. That is, business continues, but it is under certain conditions when notifications of air strikes force employees to be in shelters, and this seriously affects overall business processes as well. We are completely dependent on the supply of electricity. Last fall, significant adjustments were made when many companies had to change their approach due to a blackout. Of course, all Swedish companies were prepared in advance for generator provisioning. All this helped to continue business activities, but this is not a normal period, but part of a so-called contingency plan in case of a lack of electricity. This negatively affects investing, but from the perspective of the processes we see now and the possibilities for rebuilding Ukraine on new, European standards, it allows Swedish companies to consider future active activity in the Ukrainian market.
LDaily: Are there perhaps Swedish companies interested in entering the Ukrainian market now?
B. Senchuk: There are companies, and we thank them for their proactivity. I know for sure that there is a company that has registered demining activity. This is the number one issue for restoring life in the areas and zones of military operations. First of all, these territories must be demined because it is impossible to carry out normal life without it. So this again proves that Swedish companies are looking absolutely openly at the needs in Ukraine and are trying to provide and offer such services, actively carry out the work that needs to be done in Ukraine. There is also another Swedish company that is starting a business activity in the PR industry. In April, we were able to organize a business event in Stockholm, to which we invited Swedish companies to share the experience of Ukraine’s year in a state of war. We received huge support and assurance from our Swedish colleagues regarding the provision of necessary things for restoring peace and winning Ukraine at all levels – starting from the Swedish government and ending with each individual and their personal contribution.
LDaily: What does the business community expect from the government under the current conditions?
B. Senchuk: First and foremost, transparent rules, stable legislative norms so that businesses can operate and plan on a minimum horizon of 5 years without significant changes in legislation, and possibly even for a longer period. Predictable actions in regulations, changes in norms, the ability to participate in government procurement without special difficulties, and without excessive pressure or influence on the activities of companies are expected from the government. Companies participating in government procurement are obliged to increase the percentage of localization in Ukraine every year. The question is that this percentage, from the point of view of the association, our other associations, members of ICBAC, needs to be reviewed, as it currently stands at 15%, and this is essentially the ceiling of Ukraine’s localization capability in a state of war.
The next requirement for the increase in localization percentage for companies participating in government procurement is destructive to the supply of quality products. Therefore, I believe that this issue should be reviewed as soon as possible. State policy must be transparent, as we must take into account not only the price in government procurement but above all quality, timely delivery, and the price factor that affects the product’s life cycle. These principles will undoubtedly enable us to approach European standards and have better quality services and goods that the government purchases. Otherwise, if the government saves on price, it will lose in the quality of the products provided and will spend much more on servicing equipment, specifically, or other products. Because without considering the costs of the product life cycle regarding maintenance, spare parts replacement, etc., this is an old approach that only leads to a loss of those who purchase products solely based on price.
There must also be a very transparent and clear procedure for interaction with staffing centers regarding personnel reservation. Because there are vitally important employees without whom the business simply will not be able to function. Therefore, the state must now have an open and transparent procedure for reserving personnel and ensuring business operations. If these principles are violated, then in the medium term, Ukraine will be left without an economic resource that can support the needs that are currently priority ones. And this is the provision of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Because the economy will be exhausted and will not have the resources to support tax payments and support activities for the protection of Ukraine.
All these issues are important and must be transparent and understandable. Business in Ukraine is responsible, and everyone in their place is doing the maximum that is possible to help those who serve, those who represent this community. In this case, this balance must be maintained. The strengthening and transfer of material values for the needs of centers engaged in the search, recruiting of military draftees, and material and technical support, must also be a sufficiently transparent and understandable process that does not really hinder the further activities of the business. Because by undermining the economic component, we undermine the ability to restore the economy and the ability to win in armed confrontation.
LDaily: You are actively assisting the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Tell us in more detail how exactly you do this.
B. Senchuk: There is personal responsibility for everyone, and I made a personal decision because I believe that I can do more by helping to save lives. Together with colleagues from many companies, we have a volunteer center where everyone personally contributes to meet the needs of those who are currently in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. First and foremost, it’s evacuation transport, because in case of injury on the battlefield, it is the price of life. Therefore, we actively direct all our efforts to provide it to the units. We know those units from cooperation with volunteers – who specifically, what needs there are. And by responding to these challenges, we provide the maximum that we can do today.
I sincerely thank all partners personally – from Ukraine, Sweden, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Netherlands, the USA who joined within their capabilities. Because each vehicle costs an average of 4 to 5 thousand euros. These amounts are significant, we have already lost count of how many we have brought. In the last period of 2023: in May – 3, June – 3, and now another 3 purchased in Sweden and one car donated, we just have to bring them. So if you calculate all these budget allocations that we have mobilized to provide, these are substantial contributions made by concerned patriots from around the world.
In Sweden, we created a fund that accumulates resources. We also have our volunteers who accumulate funds and use this money to purchase vehicles. Usually, a vehicle is first purchased with the personal funds of our colleagues in Sweden, and then we compensate them from the collected funds. There are many examples of our colleagues in Sweden donating their own transport for the needs in Ukraine or organizing additional collections, for example, as a gift for an anniversary event.
We focused mainly on all-wheel-drive vehicles, whose primary task is evacuation. This is a very responsible task. There is decentralization in the supply of vehicles – they go directly to the unit where there is a need. We never buy anything in advance, only what is needed, according to the characteristics required by the unit. This strongly motivates all partners, the opportunity to join, to do this, to help, to bring, to arrange, to go through customs procedures, to carry out technical maintenance, to replace worn parts, etc.
It is effectively an army of volunteers, working without any rewards, just for victory. And all available, possible resources are invested in this, and this is a very pleasant moment. Because, on the one hand, there is a need, and on the other, there will always be a lack of budget and its funding to solve these issues, but true friends and patriots of Ukraine are recognized in trouble. And even minimal contributions actively delight everyone with the opportunity for everyone to join as they can.
In addition, we have the opportunity to receive certain products in Ukraine. For example, hygiene products. They need to be transported to military hospitals first and foremost, and to other territories that have been affected, such as in the Kherson region. Or, for example, we received mobile heating units from partners, and they need to be transported to Kherson from Lviv. Specialized transport and specific platforms are required for transportation. Therefore, the scope of activity and the opportunity to help and join are extraordinarily vast. And every contribution, every action of many, shapes our victory today.