Zenon Poticzny’s office is in Etobicoke, but the real work is halfway around the world, just outside a small Ukrainian town now overrun by the Russian army.
Poticzny, the president of Zhoda Petroleum and a Ukrainian national who grew up in Poland before immigrating to Canada, is invested in several oil projects in his home country, including an extraction venture in an oilfield near Pryluky in central -northern Ukraine, which produces nearly 200 barrels per day.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this oil area was one of the largest production sites belonging to the USSR, estimated at around one billion barrels of high-quality light oil in its vast territory.
As workers in Poticzny informed him on Friday that Russian tanks were rolling on the ground in sovereign Ukrainian territory, it reminded him of those earlier times.
“What we see is a total disaster. But we’ve seen it before,” Poticzny said.
Poticzny is also president of the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 230 companies doing business in the two countries.
Over the past week, many of these employers have scrambled to account for their workers and protect their offices in a country suddenly embroiled in battle.
Inna Kogan, who grew up in Kiev and immigrated to Canada in 1994, operates a law firm in Toronto that helps Ukrainians and Russians immigrate to Canada. It has a satellite office in Kyiv staffed by translators, tutors and interpreters who help applicants with paperwork.
During the run-up to the dispute, Kogan said she offered to help him bring his eight Ukrainian employees to Canada, but none of them wanted to leave.
“They felt they could be more useful there. They could bring supplies to the injured and help the elderly. They just wanted to stay for patriotic reasons,” Kogan said.
Kogan staffers have abandoned their office in Kyiv and are now hiding in bomb shelters as convoys of Russian soldiers gather around the outskirts of the city, she said.
Most nights they are awakened by the sound of shelling and gunfire. Some of them work for entertainment, so Kogan said she would get emails from them at 4 or 5 a.m. local time when they can’t sleep.
Although Kogan tries to stay in daily contact with her employees, she said she recently lost contact with one. The employee is based in Kharkiv, where Russian forces launched a brutal assault, and Kogan said she has not heard from her since Sunday.
“It was extremely worrying. During our last conversation a few days ago, she mentioned her plans to move elsewhere with her family. So hopefully she’s just on her way and that’s why she can’t get in touch,” Kogan said.
Over the past few weeks, the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce has sought to help businesses and their employees get out of the country and into neighboring Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Sviatoslav Kavetskyi, the chamber’s executive director, said he had worked hard to relocate companies with ties to Canada before the Russian invasion.
Most Canadian companies with Ukrainian offices are run by Ukrainians themselves, Kavetskyi said.
For many of them, the sight of their home country razed to the ground by Russian forces was nothing short of horrifying.
“It’s absolutely devastating. I have been crying non-stop for four days, taking breaks to do something useful and trying to distract myself with work,” Kogan said.
Poticzny, trying to remain optimistic, hopes his mining project near Pryluky has helped slow down Russian tanks.
“When it rains and snows, the oil field becomes very difficult to cross. We had actually intended to do repairs on it for ages, but we never got the chance,” he said.
“I like to think maybe my field stopped a few tanks.”
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