Inside a Ukrainian agency finding purpose and pride during the war
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has united much of the world behind the people of Ukraine. Here’s how one Ukrainian ad agency has been faring in a time of national heartache.
Lera Gavrilyuk, a copywriter at IamIdea, poses in a bomb shelter – where she has constructed a small office / IamIdea
When their home country became engulfed in war earlier this year, the team at Ukrainian agency IamIdea hardly skipped a beat, and kept doing what they loved. If anything, they seem to be working harder than ever.
There was, of course, a temporary pause in their work after the Russian military invaded on February 24 2022. Those who were able to leave the country packed their bags and boarded trains, unsure when they would return, while those who stayed left the capital city of Kyiv and braced themselves for whatever was to come. Igor Finashkin, the agency’s founder and creative director, said goodbye to his wife and two young children, who left for France; Finashkin was to remain in Ukraine.
After a brief and stressful reshuffling period, the team eventually began to settle back into a normal work routine – or at least as close to normal as was possible, given the state of psychological shock that they had suddenly found themselves in and the horrific headlines that were coming out of Ukraine on a daily basis. Connecting now from multiple countries and time zones, they discovered that the pandemic had prepared them for this new crisis: “It’s not a big deal to work online,” Finashkin says, “but it’s not easy to work in stress. For three weeks it was really pretty hard for everyone ... now it’s getting better day by day. But even when there are no sirens outside, you’re getting messages on your phone about rocket strikes ... even if you think that everything is fine, you cannot know if a rocket will come or not.”
Speaking to four members of the IamIdea team – two of whom were still in Ukraine – earlier this week via a Microsoft Teams call, they seem unfazed. Ihor Gavrush, a copywriter in his 20s with a quick sense of humor, had been in Kyiv at the time of our call for three days. “It’s totally fine,” he tells me casually. “We’re getting more and more people every day, and there’s been no siren for two days.” The city, according to Gavrush, still has a curfew from 10pm to 6am. But he insists that he has “a very, very beautiful working spot” in his bathroom – which doubles as a makeshift bomb shelter.
Doing what they love most
Founded in 2018, IamIdea agency has made a name for itself working with a handful of big-name clients, among them Domino’s Pizza, Jägermeister, Johnnie Walker and Mini Coupe. They radiate passion for their work, even through an occasionally glitchy video call. They describe themselves on their website as the “most caring creative agency according to our clients.” Gavrush describes the agency’s credo to me in one sentence: “We’re having fun doing what we love the most.”
The war has only added fuel to that passion. Dismayed by the amount of propaganda behind the Russian war effort, the IamIdea team has been committing a large portion of its talents and resources to combating misinformation. They’ve been working, for example, on ad campaigns for a project called ‘War Against War’ (WAW). The campaigns include some pretty harrowing photos and footage captured on the ground in Ukraine, and appear to be aimed at providing an honest glimpse into the horrors of the war and potentially catalyzing action against Russia from the rest of the world.
“People around the world understand what actually happens here in Ukraine, because a lot of advertising agencies are doing [the] maximum to spread the word about what is actually happening here,” Finashkin says. But even in nearby countries such as France – where the rest of his family is currently staying – he says that the media only provides “a very, very light version of what is actually happening ... The US and United Kingdom understand the situation pretty clearly, but a lot of countries in Europe do not. So we’re trying to tell people all around the world what is actually happening and show the situation clearly.”
Three fundamental ways to help
Ganna Iemelianova, an art director currently living in Stockholm who was also on the video call, says that the agency is currently “working as an informational army.” There are three fundamental ways, she says, that agencies outside of Ukraine can help that army’s efforts in Ukraine.
The first, and easiest, is to make a simple statement on social media in support of the people of Ukraine. “Once you put a [Ukrainian] flag on LinkedIn, it’s taking a side,” she says, “and it matters a lot for us.”
The second way that agencies can help, she says, is to take active measures to combat misinformation – essentially, to join in the effort that WAW is currently involved in by spreading the word about what’s actually happening on the ground in Ukraine, and who’s actually to blame. “When you don’t take a side, then you start to support the evil,” says Iemelianova. “You collaborate.”
The third option available to agencies outside Ukraine that are looking to help, says Iemelianova, is financial. The war has obviously interrupted the Ukrainian economy, and so agencies like IamIdea are now having to look primarily outside of their home country for clients and projects. “To survive as an agency ... [and] to keep ourselves as a team, we will have to find foreign clients, at least while the Ukrainian economy rises again. And it’s going to take some time ... So, if any agency in the United States, for example, knows that they have some projects that they could spare ... that would be awesome.”
There is a clear confidence in each of their voices that their country would not bow to tyranny, and that their work as an agency was having – and would continue to have – a genuinely positive impact on their fellow Ukrainians and on defenders of democracy around the world. “In many ways right now, it’s really a beautiful time ... It’s a wonderful time to be Ukrainian,” Iemelianova says.