(CBS DETROIT) – “Look at it, it’s just unbelievable,” Ukrainian-American Vladimir Gendelman Owner and CEO of Company Folders Inc. said, as he showed me cell phone video during an interview at his Pontiac office.
Gendelman says he can’t believe his eyes as those on the frontline in Ukraine sends him cell phone video of unimaginable images.
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He runs a company here in Metro Detroit, and as of Friday afternoon, 6 of his 7 employees who work remotely in Ukraine is currently hunkered down in some of the invaded areas, in fear of their lives.
“Everybody’s extremely scared and don’t know what to do because there really is no direction, instruction, nobody knows what’s happening, nobody knows what’s coming, they’re constantly hearing bombs blowing up, they’re hearing rockets falling.”
A photo he shows me has a rocket embedded in the ground right in the middle of an intersection.
Gendelman says people are taking shelter where ever they can.
“There’s a train subway metro system there and in Ukraine the system is underground so therefore it also serves as a bomb shelter they’ve been telling me how horrible those conditions are,” Gendelman said.
He says people are packed in like sardines. That’s also the case with two of his employees and their families who’s currently staying with neighbors who live on a lower floor in their apartment building, because the higher up the more dangerous. Since Marshall Law went into effect Thursday, it’s even more risky for men to be on the streets.
“You get caught in the street as a man between 18 and 60 you’re being pulled into the war somehow,” Gendelman said.
He says for now his employees are just sheltered in place and securing the space they’re in by unscrewing patio porch lights so they aren’t seen, and taping plastic to windows in case a bomb goes off the glass doesn’t shatter.
He says these employees have been with him over a decade and it’s all completely heartbreaking.
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“It’s horrible to see people suffer, it’s even more horrible to see people you know suffering.”
Gendelman is also sending money to the employees so they can get adequate food, water, shelter, battery back-ups and other supplies so they can hunker down with the hope of waiting out the conflict. As they wait, Gendelman told the staff they should take care of their families and are not expected to be working, but many are grateful for the normalcy and distraction work provides them in the midst of this chaos.
A message from Gendelman’s Company Folders, Inc.
As a young entrepreneur, Vladimir Gendelman was an avid learner and networker. The internet was just starting to hop in 2003, when he founded Company Folders, Inc., and he was active in many online forums. Gendelman was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, and his family emigrated from the Soviet Union to escape anti-Semitism when he was a teen. So, he was pleased to connect to programmers and designers in Ukraine’s burgeoning tech sector through one of those forums. And he eventually hired a Ukrainian web designer to create his first web site to sell presentation folders.
As his company grew, he expanded his team in Ukraine to include software programmers, graphic designers, and quality assurance engineers. Currently, seven of the company’s 16 staff members are in Ukraine.
The Company Folders US team is working around the clock to help staff move to less dangerous areas. They have connected with a former US army colonel who is providing guidance about Russian military targets and tactics. Combined with Gendelman’s intimate knowledge of the country, they have been able to direct staff about when it’s safe to move and where to go. They are focused on getting them away from strategic military targets, transportation hubs and large cities.
“We’re in constant communication, using Slack, Skype, and WhatsApp so if one goes down, we can still communicate and help them share information about their experiences on the ground, so they can each make their best decisions,” Gendelman said.
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