While some Canadian tech companies move to support Ukrainians, others cut ties with Russia

In addition to support, some startups are following the Canadian government’s lead on sanctioning Russia.

In a microcosm of global events, some in Canada’s tech community are moving to aid Ukrainians while others are cutting ties with Russian affiliates as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its third week.

A group of Canadian entrepreneurs, including Solon Angel, the founder and chief impact officer for MindBridge AI, Kostyantyn Khomutov, CEO of GBatteries, and Fahd Alhattab of Unicorn Labs, have launched a nonprofit organization, Ukrainetocanada.org, devoted to helping Ukrainian refugees reach Canada.

The launch of the organization comes as the federal government has created two special programs for Ukrainians fleeing the war that allow the refugees to stay temporarily or permanently in Canada. Similair to other countries, Canada is waiving most of the requirements that exist under a traditional visa with no limit for applications accepted under the stream. Nearly 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began.

Canada has the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world, with some 1.4 million Ukrainians living here.

Angel noted in a LinkedIn post that outside of his family and his responsibilities at MindBridge, he plans to devote all his efforts to working with Ukrainetocanada.org.

“We’re immigrants, entrepreneurs, and fellow humans,” the group writes on its website. “When the world turned upside down for citizens of Ukraine, we immediately wiped our calendars and went to work helping Ukrainians refugees flee to safety.”

Angel has also posted stories of Ukrainian refugees on his LinkedIn, shared available job openings, and called for aid.

Daryna Kulya, the co-founder of OpenPhone, also took to LinkedIn to call upon people to speak up about the war, donate to charities supporting Ukrainian troops, and to help Ukrainians by buying products from their companies or through hiring.

Headquartered in San Francisco but founded in Canada, OpenPhone is a startup that provides businesses with cloud-based phone numbers. The startup has made calls and messages done through its platform to Ukraine free.

“Today I want to share with you the pain of someone who had to call their parents at 5 a.m. (while being thousands of miles away) and wake them up saying that war is happening,” wrote Kulya, who is Ukrainian. She wrote of the “despair of someone who is helping their family navigate the map of bomb shelters and try to get to safety.”

The group behind Ukrainetocanada.org and Kulya are not alone in their desire to help Ukranians. VanHack, an organization dedicated to helping international tech talent find work in the Canadian tech ecosystem, recently announced that it would waive its placement fee for all Ukrainian tech hires. The tech recruitment company is also encouraging employers to donate to verified Ukrainian-based charities in lieu of its placement fee.

VanHack has also created a resource for companies to easily find Ukrainian tech talent through its website. VanHack also said that its global mobility team is equipped to support Ukrainian tech talent by offering emergency immigration and relocation services for candidates, as well as additional financial and logistical assistance through its partners.

WFHomie, an employee engagement and people analytics startup, held a virtual musical bingo event on March 9, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Save the Children, Ukraine Crisis Appeal. The latter is a charity providing humanitarian assistance to the 7.5 million children in the Ukraine. Pavla Bobosikova, the CEO of co-founder of WFHomie, is part Ukrainian and has strong roots in Eastern Europe.

Large Canadian tech companies like Hopper, Shopify, and Wealthsimple have also made moves to support Ukrainains.

The travel tech company Hopper anounced plans to fund $50,000 USD in total through its in-app cred system to people fleeing the Ukraine and in need of temporary accommodations in neighbouring countries.

“We’re hoping this booking credit will help ease the financial burden for hundreds of refugees,” Hopper wrote. Airbnb made a similar move in February, announcing that it would offer free temporary housing for up to 100,000 displaced Ukrainians.

For its part, Wealthsimple announced that it will waive all transaction and transfer fees for Wealthsimple Crypto clients who wish to donate Bitcoin or Ethereum to the government of Ukraine.

Shopify announced it would not collect fees from our Ukrainian merchants and partners, as well as match employee donations supporting a relief effort.

While many startups and founders are extending aid to the people of Ukraine, a number – like Shopify – have also expressed their intent to limit or cut ties with Russian organizations over the brutal invasion, which has seen hospitals and civilians targeted in repeated bombings of multiple cities. Shopify temporarily suspended operations in Russia and Belarus, noting it will “comply with applicable sanctions as they are announced.”

The companies appear to be following the lead of the Canadian government, which said that companies engaging in commercial activities in Russia or with Russian entities should consider seeking legal advice and refer to regulations on the Canadian sanctions website in relation to activities that may contravene a Canadian sanction law.

As well, François-Philippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, and Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of health, recently asked that research funding organizations under government responsibility refrain from entering into agreements with Russian research institutions.

In particular, the Canadian government cited the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The federal government also called upon other entities receiving federal funding for science and research activities, – including the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Institute for Quantum Computing – to restrict their engagements with Russia.

In response to questions from BetaKit, both the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Institute of Quantum Computing claimed to not have any connections with Russian collaborators.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation specifically noted that it does “not have formal agreements or maintain relations with Russian postsecondary institutions or their government.”

And for its part, the Institute of Quantum Computing informed BetaKit: “Currently the Institute for Quantum Computing does not have any funded research collaborations with Russia.”

The federal ministers went on to state: “Recognizing the historic role that scientists, academics and researchers have played in defending freedom from tyranny, we do not call for a broad ban on collaborations with individual Russian researchers.”

“However, we have asked the research granting agencies to implement strict measures to prohibit funding for research collaborations that could further the interests of Vladimir Putin’s regime,” the ministers added.

Following the Canadian government’s announcement of sanctions, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) has alerted all “market participants” to the economic sanctions the Government of Canada recently imposed. The CSA warned that the sanctions impact, among other things, crypto asset trading platforms, and investment funds, and that they could be directly affected if they “intersected with any of the ‘designated persons’ sanctioned by the federal government.”

“All market participants are encouraged to do their due diligence and consider obtaining expert advice to understand, follow and continually monitor their obligations under the regulations,” the CSA advised.

Like Shopify, other tech organizations taking a stand against Russia include Collision, which is set to take place in Toronto in June. The group said it would bar organizations with ties to the Russian government from taking part in the event. Collision also prohibited all Russian businesses from exhibiting at the tech conference.

For his part, Kurtis McBride, the co-founder and CEO of smart city startup Miovision, declared it was suspending service for all Russian customers until Russia pulled its troops from the Ukrainie and “full reparations are made.”

Kitchener-Waterloo-based Miovision’s move comes as regional leader BlackBerry also ​​ceased all business activities in Russia.

Back on his LinkedIn, Solon Angel provided context as to why Canadian tech leaders were involving themselves in the Ukraine crisis: “If Ukrainian presence was a city in Canada it would be as big as #Ottawa. This is why it hits home for us.”

Photo by Tina Hartung on Unsplash.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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