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Our hell: Russian and Ukrainian entrepreneurs on politics in the workplace

0 31 May 2014

In the wake of the violence in Odessa which led to the deaths of 46 pro-Russian activists, the head of Yandex in Ukraine took indefinite leave after making inflammatory comments about the events. 

Sergei Petrenko used it Facebook account to say that “Everything’s alright. The city has practically been cleansed of separatists”, adding that what happened was the result of large scale provocation and the incitement of violence by the separatists.

However, Petrenko stopped short of apologising for his comments, and instead put his ‘decision’ to take indefinite leave down to his inability to remain indifferent in the face of what is happening in Ukraine but at the same time not wanting his personal views to interfere with Yandex’s political neutrality.

In the light of these events, Russian business journal Hopes&Fears asked Russian and Ukrainian entrepreneurs how they react to active displays of political views by their workers and how they deal with differing political views in the workplace.

Sergei Shalayev (Russia)

Cofounder of Surfingbird


I’m a monarchist, but the other cofounder, Dima, is a liberal and pastafarian. On the whole, we are completely respectful of the political views of our workers, as long as there is no aggression involved. An employee is always identified with the company he works for. It makes no sense to say ‘this is the view of a citizen and not of an employee of company X’. An employee’s views will always be projected onto the company. You need to think twice about the implications for your colleagues and the reputational risks before speaking out about politics. We had a situation in the past where a colleague made aggressive statements on social networks and then in work somebody tried to hit them. I told them that in these kind of situations the only person who can comment, and tell everyone to **** off, is me and that it would be better for them to keep themselves under control.

I feel very sorry for Yandex. Statistically, in big companies like them there is always going to be one idiot. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not just any old employee, but someone high up. His statement that “this is my view, not that of my company,” was simply an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his own words. Dismissal is the only rightful outcome in this case.

Stepan Tanaseichuk (Ukraine)

Founder of

We don’t have any problems with political differences within our team, since we all agree that Putin is a ****. If we had to work with somebody with some other point of view I think it would be at the very least uncomfortable for them. From a business point of view, for me the key is that the work gets done on time. But it’s also important that nobody’s political views have a negative impact on the mood of the team. We try to avoid talking about politics at work. 

Personally, I often make comments about politics on social networks, and so do the people I work with. If someone doesn’t like that, they don’t have to work with us. We aren’t forcing anyone. I think that sitting there quietly without saying anything is even worse. I say well done to Sergei Petrenko. I think our clients like us because we work according to our conscience, not because of our views. 

Previously we even took the decision not to work with Russian clients. Not long ago we started again, but we decided that 10% of our profits would be donated to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Alexei Pospekhov (Russia)

Cofounder of Iconic Mobile

I am building my business according to the rules of Christianity and universal morals. It’s really not important what political views my employees hold as long as they share these principles. 

Business partners, however, are another matter. I can’t imagine having partners who don’t share my political views, which are a reflection of a person’s personal values. In terms of our outlook on life my partners and I agree 1000%, and since they are more experienced than me, I do my best to emulate them. 

Our company’s employment contract forbids workers from making statements on behalf of the company or from making any comments about the company without receiving permission from either the general director or the PR director. What they talk about on social networks is their business as long as they do not mention the company.  

The events in Ukraine can be seen and evaluated in many ways. The comments of Sergei Petrenko were very extreme, as was his dismissal (actually he hasn’t been fired but sent on leave of absence - ed.). This all encourages further discord and escalates the conflict. I believe in finding peaceful solutions to problems, especially those which are most acute. In this case finding such a solution is the most important thing. 

Vitali Tkachuk (Ukraine)

Founder of Creative Association G84

Almost all of our work is done long distance, so political issues lose their relevance. Political questions are very important, but as a rule after 5 minutes of debate everybody just sticks to their opinion. In terms of hiring somebody with opposing political views I would say this: sensible people question themselves, the stupid just act. Employees should be intelligent and should not shout too loudly about their views. 

Alexei Zakharov (Russia)

Cofounder of

We have people working for us with different political views, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes a problem when somebody tries to impose their views on others. I doubt anybody like that works for us. People can make all the comments they like on social networks, as long as it doesn’t get personal. 

In terms of having business partners with different political views, a lot depends on how different they are, and on which issues we differ. I have friends who have very different political and religious outlooks to my own, but this doesn’t get in the way of having an excellent relationship.

Evgeniy Gordeyev (Russia)

Managing partner of Russian Ventures

In general, entrepreneurs with very ‘liberal’ views tend to be unsuccessful in business here, because they don’t understand how our country works. 

Having said that, I have hired, and will continue to hire, people with any political views. My company isn’t so big that employees making statements on social networks could do any real harm to business. But if somebody writes: “Burn all those who support Putin” or something similar, then of course we’ll fire the moron. Nobody should be burning anyone. 

Normal people generally don’t care about external politics, but after the referendum in Crimea there was a surge of patriotism, after all it’s not every day that Russia gets back part of its territory. 

I didn’t follow the situation with Yandex Ukraine. If it just happened once, then there would be no need for a dismissal. But if those kinds of views were being expressed constantly, and were seen by everyone, then it makes sense. It will be very interesting to see the fate of all the Ukrainian nationalist businessmen who until recently were partners in Russian companies. One day they will sober up.

Source: Hopes&Fears

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