Between air raids and missile strikes, Julia Petryk works in her bathtub in Ukraine. It’s the safest place in her Kyiv apartment.
“The last interview I gave for media was in the bathtub,” she told Cult of Mac in an email. It’s “the safest place in the apartment during bombardment.”
Petryk heads up public relations at MacPaw, a Kyiv-based startup that specializes in Mac software. The company publishes popular and well-regarded apps like CleanMyMac X and runs the innovative app-subscription service Setapp. But right now, MacPaw staffers face something far more menacing than Mac malware and junk files. They face the constant threat of Russian missiles and bombs.
During the fighting, Petryk is hunkering down with her teenage daughter and husband. The family has been sheltering for days from Russian bombardment, sleeping in an underground parking garage at night and venturing upstairs to their apartment to work during the day.
In Ukraine, Petryk and her fellow MacPaw staffers are hardly alone. Their wartime stories, told below, reflect those of the more than 40 million Ukrainians under siege after Russia invaded the country on February 24. While shocking images of destroyed homes, a burning nuclear power plant and mangled Russian tanks leave outsiders fearing a potential world war, for Ukrainians, the terror is immediate and unrelenting.
And, like many Ukrainians, MacPaw staffers spend their days and nights doing what they can to defend their country and halt the Russian invasion.
MacPaw HQ in Kyiv, Ukraine
Normally, MacPaw operates out of a hip headquarters in the center of the historic Ukrainian city. It’s home to rescue cats and an extensive Apple museum. One visitor described the offices to me as the coolest he’s ever seen.
In response to the Russian invasion, MacPaw stopped selling its products in Russia and Belarus, a neighboring country with close ties to Moscow. Apple stopped selling its devices in Russia, too, and removed state-backed news applications RT and Sputnik from the App Store.
Some MacPaw apps added push notifications telling Russian and Belarusian users “what actually is happening in Ukraine,” the company said, as part of a broader effort to fight Russian disinformation and propaganda about the conflict.
MacPaw is also providing Ukrainians with free access to its virtual private network app, ClearVPN. (The company said 75,000 people already started using it.) It’s also providing a free year of subscription to CleanMyMac X to journalists covering the war in Ukraine. So far, MacPaw products and services are operating without disruptions, the company said.
During the buildup to Russia’s invasion, MacPaw took steps to prepare. Every weekend for the past couple of months, the company trained its staffers in first aid. It also prepared emergency bags for all employees with first aid kits, food rations, sleeping bags, multitools, lighters, power banks and other helpful items.
“All of these things are really useful for many of us now, whether we are on the move or are in shelters,” said Eugene Kalynyk, a MacPaw PR specialist.
Petryk, the PR manager, has been trying to get the message out about the situation in Ukraine, giving media interviews like this one to a radio station in Washington, D.C.. During the interview, conducted at about 9 p.m. Kyiv time, Petryk sat in the dark. She keeps the lights off so as not to attract bombs, missiles or bullets.
Like most of the MacPaw team, Petryk spends most of the day volunteering for the war effort. She said they are donating blood and money and providing assistance to various Ukrainian charities.
Ukraine war sets pulses racing
Meanwhile, the warfare takes a toll on civilians in Ukraine. Pavlo Haidamak, a product manager at MacPaw, says he’s not sleeping much.
“Our lives turned into an endless stream of messages and phone calls to our loved ones,” he said in an email to Cult of Mac. “We have a single question — ‘How are you?’ You don’t even start with ‘hello’ or use the words of support.”
Haidamak’s heart started racing when he heard news about the war. Every day, Haidamak receives notifications about his abnormally high heart rate from his smartwatch.
He’s also volunteering for the war effort.
“I’m spending my time on the internet matching people who need help with those who can offer help all over the world,” he said. “We are using all of our connections. At the moment, our friends from Germany are collecting humanitarian aid. They have already sent helmets and bulletproof vests to Ukraine. I’m also working with people from Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands and Sri Lanka — we have all joined our forces and trying to help.”
‘The war comes to my dreams’
Nina Bohush, PR specialist at MacPaw, called the Russian bombardments truly terrifying.
“For the first time in my life, I understood real fear,” she said in an email.
“I’m writing this comment from a basement under the sounds of explosions,” she continued. “Last week, I couldn’t imagine that one morning my life would change so irrevocably. I almost haven’t slept for the first three days of the war, checking on the news every single minute, running to bomb shelters each time I hear sirens. When I manage to sleep now, the war comes to my dreams.”
Some of the MacPaw team members fled Ukraine due to the Russian invasion. Others went to stay with parents or friends in the countryside.
“We didn’t even pack up, just took some clothes and laptops, because we planned our return to Kyiv on Saturday, Feb. 26,” said Anastasiia Sulzhyk, a PR specialist at MacPaw in an email. “But now it’s Friday, March already, and I don’t know when we’ll be able to visit Kyiv again.”
One MacPaw staffer stayed in Dubai after a visit and decided not to return home. Another fled to Poland with her partner.
“I’m literally getting notifications every minute, trying to follow what is happening in Kyiv,” said Christina Hulovata, a MacPaw communication sSpecialist, in an email from Warsaw. “It is especially hard to process when you are in safety.”
Valeriia Kozachenko, a quality-assurance engineer with Setapp, sleeps in her car some nights in a parking garage. She had a chance to leave Ukraine, like the estimated 1 million residents that fled during the first week of fighting, but decided to stay. She said she hears constant sirens in Kyiv.
“On the first day, I was in panic — the feeling I will never forget,” she said in an email. “People packed suitcases and left, and I was standing there not knowing what to do. Finally, we made a decision to stay in Kyiv. All of our family members are here, we won’t go anywhere without them.”
‘I felt hate. Pure hate.’
Nicole Borman, a PR specialist at MacPaw, was just recovering from COVID-19 when the Russian bombing started.
“It was my first night when I fell asleep without any pain and fever since COVID-19,” she said in an email. “When at 5:15 a.m., I am being awakened because of a massive explosion.”
She said her heart started racing and she heard a tinnitus-like ringing in her ears. At first, she was paralyzed with fear, but a second explosion spurred her into action.
“I found myself packing an urgent backpack to go to friends who have cars so that we could get to a safe place together,” she said.
Borman spent last week traversing the country in two cars, with seven adults, three kids, one dog and a rabbit.
“On our way, sirens did not calm down, and fighter aircraft flew over us again and again,” she said.
The group fled Kyiv, but ended up in Hostomel, one of the first cities Russian troops attacked.
“All night long, we heard planes, bombardings, detonations,” Borman said. “So unthinkable and so real at the same time. Being 26 years old, I learned about war from history books, military films, and stories from my Jewish family. But now, it is my reality. I hide in the basement like my Jewish relatives did during WWII. Oy vey. No way.”
The group drove for 13 straight hours.
“Traffic jams on the highways are insane, plus now it is necessary to pass inspections at dozens of checkpoints,” Borman said. The group was running out of gas but luckily came across a station with fuel. They finally reached the Ukrainian city of Drohobych, which has so far been spared heavy fighting. Still, the sirens sound every day, as they do across most of the country.
“We are very twitchy from any loud sounds and terribly panicking from the sound of sirens,” Borman said. “I realized that I no longer could feel safe in my country. It was more than a frustration. My chest went hot, and my lips closed hard — for the first time in my life, I felt hate. Pure hate.”
Ukraine will win, despite the odds
Like Petryk, Borman is trying to get news about the situation in Ukraine out to the international news media.
“We fight enemy propaganda,” Borman said. “We are the information army.”
As the Russian shelling stretches into its second week, MacPaw staffers face the realization that the war will not end quickly.
“This week has been not the most joyful in my life, to put it mildly,” said Tetyana Shokina, an email marketing specialist at MacPaw. “It’s all one horrible nightmare, and no one knows when it’s over. I have a strong faith in our military who are defending our independence, but I’m really worried that it’s something we’ll have to live with for a long time.”
And yet, all the MacPaw staffers who told their stories to Cult of Mac expressed optimism that Ukraine would win out, despite overwhelming odds.
“The whole nation is so united that there’s no doubt that we will win,” Petryk said, “although the price that Ukraine pays is enormously high.”