Run for Ukraine: How Software Developers work, Do Sports, and Help the Army during the war.
Twice a year, the IT employees of Zoolatech run between 3 and 21 kilometers to help schools, charitable foundations, and others in need. This year, we are fundraising to help the Ukrainian army.
In total, we have raised $3,500 (USD)—of which the company funded $30 per participant. In total, since February 2022, ZoolaTech has spent almost 600,000$ to help the army, volunteers and employees. As a result of the war, the team fled to various cities around the globe. Some went alone, others in groups. Yet, despite the distance of their locations, they have come together, albeit virtually, to run using the sports app, Strava.
We talked to the runners about their motivation, their work during the war, and the role of sports in their lives.
ZOOLATECH IS A BROAD-BASED SERVICE COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF LARGE RETAIL BRANDS. THERE ARE CURRENTLY MORE THAN 450 EMPLOYEES WORKING IN THE COMPANY OFFICES IN UKRAINE, MEXICO, ROMANIA, AND POLAND.
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The first race of this kind was organized two years ago when the company celebrated its anniversary. We gathered a team for the Kyiv marathon, and I suggested that the next time we should get together for a run at the Expocenter of Ukraine, and have a picnic afterward. This evolved into the idea to create our own race, ZoolaRun. Since then, we have had races twice a year. Even those who don't or aren’t able to run can take part as volunteers to support participants along the way.
You can choose among several distances: 3, 5, 10, or 21 km. The most common choice is 3 to 5 km. It's not about competition; it's about being involved in sport within the same community. Our main goal is to encourage our colleagues and help them get back into sports or take their first steps in that healthy direction.
This year, because of the war, we held a virtual ZoolaRun without a specific location. We also haven't set up a specific time for the race – you can start whenever you want on the weekend. You can even do it on a treadmill.
We use Strava, which is an app similar to a social network for those who do sports.
There's a company club, and all workouts are displayed in the group. The company donates 30 USD to charity for each workout lasting more than half an hour, which you record in the app.
Once we collect a large sum of money, we all decide together on how to use it. It's been like this for years: this is how we helped both sports clubs and schools in small towns, where even a small amount can lead to significant results.
As for this race, the company is going to allocate 30 USD per person to charity, regardless of the distance they run.
Now, we get reports, almost weekly, on how much the company helps in terms of finances and other assistance. There are many options: most often we donate directly through volunteers or brigades in which our employees are involved. A lot of our guys have joined the territorial defense brigades and are part of the army now, so we try to help them as much as we can. We have always had many initiatives, but now the focus has shifted to projects to help the military and those affected by the war.
In fact, the company has always reimbursed 50% of any employee donations.
I, myself, donate only small amounts but to many initiatives from small foundations to the joint account of the National Bank of Ukraine for the Ukrainian military. Among the most recent, I especially liked the Kolo Foundation, which was established by the Ukrainian IT community. Its work really inspired me.
All of my relatives are currently under occupation, so I help them directly.
This year, I ran 21 kilometers.
I am once again beginning to train. At some point I branched out to running, biking and swimming, so now I’m into triathlons. I had 8–10 training sessions a week for the three sports before February. Since then, I completely missed a month or a month and a half.
Now I'm trying to get back to regular training at least 4–5 times a week, and thanks to this race, I'm raising the bar a little higher. I usually choose a distance of 10 to 15 km, but this year, I ran 21 km.
Before that, I ran a marathon (42 km), and participated in two Half Ironman races (21 km), so our race was somewhat of a lightweight endeavor for me.
But because I had to skip training a lot and switch to completely different things, I had to start anew.
How to prepare for a race – tips for beginners:
- To run, you just have to start: put on your running shoes and go outside. It's much harder to find excuses not to go out when you're already there.
- The most important thing is not to focus on others and not to compare yourself to anyone else. Even if two people start from the couch, they will have different bodies and different shapes.
- Less load means more jogging. You should have enough energy for one more session. You should stay fresh after a run so that you'll be able and willing to go out there tomorrow. After all, if you break all the records today, it will be your last run. The load should be minimal—you should be able to talk without shortness of breath. This is the easiest indicator of a comfortable pace.
- If you are ambitious for results, you definitely need a coach and a competent plan, created with a specialist.
I like the vibe of Zoolatech, both in my team and within the company as a whole.
We have a lot of professional development events, such as ZoolaTalk.
It's like a Ted Talk, where anyone can give a lecture on any technical topic or talk about their interests. ZoolaTalks usually take place during lunch break: they order us lunch food, we eat, and we listen.
During one of these events, we learned how to play Japanese chess. They gave us a chessboard, and we've even drawn a crowd that now meets all the time to play together.
The thing I particularly enjoyed was our culinary team-building session. For one holiday during a lockdown, they brought us cooking kits; we cooked via Zoom with a chef, and then we posted what we made in the group chat. Even Covid wouldn’t ruin this vibe, because we always support each other, even from afar.
It became clear that this was the longest 21 kilometers.
At my first ZoolaRun, I ran 3 kilometers because I just came to hang out. But even 3 km was not easy because it was hot at the Expocenter and the surface was bumpy with uphill paths. I really liked that we would always spend time together after the ZoolaRuns, have a barbecue, and play board games.
ZoolaRun is not about just running, checking in and leaving.
Last year our race coincided with the Kyiv Half Marathon. It was very memorable for me because I registered for the minimum distance of 4.2 km (that's 1/10th of a marathon), but ran a lot more.
I only noticed something was wrong when we ran 3 km, but there was no starting line in sight. You finish where you started, right? I thought, well, that's okay, I've never run 10 kilometers before, I can do it. But, when at the 10 km marker, there wasn't any finish line, I realized that I was running the longest distance of 21 km.
I ran for three long hours. I took a picture of a distance marker every kilometer and posted it in the work chat room—everyone was shocked.
I really wanted to grab a scooter and get straight to the finish line, but if you keep track of your strength and your emotions fuel you, you can do it.
The whole team was already cheering for me at the finish line. At last, I did it, and then we went to celebrate. I still keep my 21 km medal and a bunch of memes in our group chat.
This time, I will run 5 km. I'm getting ready for the race mentally — I plan not to mix up the start time. Although the marathon is online, Strava, where we track our race, shows how many people are running the same distance with you. It brings that feeling of unity; you want to keep moving, even when it's hard.
I even organized waste sorting at a church.
When my sister and I were evacuated to the Ternopil region, we were sheltered by acquaintances who had set up a relocation center in their church. Those who were going to evacuate farther west or abroad could stay there temporarily.
There was a great shortage of workers because only women from the same church came to cook, wash dishes, and clean.
My sister and I took shifts to help there, too. There was a very large flow of people who were brought in from train or bus stations. You had to feed them, accommodate them, sort out other people's bedding and clean the room. I also organized waste sorting at the church. Because of the curfew, we would come in for two shifts at a time, stay overnight, and then come back the next day. Donations are, of course, important, but if you can help physically, extra hands never hurt.
In the first few days, there was almost nothing in the church. People bought their own groceries, even the displaced people brought something. And then every time I was there, I was surprised at how things were changing: humanitarian aid came from abroad; some churches donated new linens, and so on.
When I returned to Kyiv, I donated blood for the first time. I don't understand why I've never done it before. At the moment, my friends and I have a plan to weave camouflage nets. I keep myself in a good mood by donating to the army.
There were nights when I would get really overwhelmed and I couldn't even fall asleep. Then I would find some charity, send money there, and I would feel better.
I knew I couldn't go to war or save lives as the doctors did, but I had money to donate. I will earn it later; if I don't help the army now, maybe there won't be a chance later.
ZoolaCare channel posts a weekly report on how the money we have made from sports and the company has allocated is spent. The areas of assistance are very different, ranging from supporting a specific unit to buying gasoline for evacuations, or food kits for people in devastated regions. Donations go to volunteers who collect money to buy a pickup truck for the army, or thermal imaging cameras, and they even tag the responsible persons. I am very pleased to see familiar names in these reports. Everyone does their part and boosts our belief in victory.
There are a lot of theories that volunteering is more for the volunteers, rather than for those in need. After all, when you do something helpful, you feel useful, you calm down, and you realize that you're involved in something important.
I've been working for Zoolatech for quite a while. I remember the time when the company was located in a friend's office in Maidan Square and was only just planning to get insurance for its employees. Now we have a lot of high-level processes.
How did I work amidst the war?
When the war started, I couldn't work. Air raid warnings went on and on for days, not like they do now, but accompanied by explosions. Apart from that, all the artillery battles that were taking place in and outside the city could be heard all the time. For example, Bucha is only 15 kilometers from me.
Therefore, the routine was to eat, bathe, hang out in the basement while it was scary, and walk outside as much as possible. It was hard to concentrate, so I wanted to take a leave of absence. But I was offered a better option, and when I was ready to go back to work, they asked me 10 times if I could do it. The company was very understanding about the fact that I couldn't work, and they kept the jobs open for everyone.
As soon as I came back, I got to work right away. It's even strange that nothing much has changed in the work process.
I run up to five times a week. It was a workout for me.
My colleagues Natasha, Tanya and I live next door, so we ran together. We agreed to meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. and go to the stadium near the house. We chose 5 km to make it easier to sync. We used to run several distances at the Expocenter, and everyone was waiting for each other. This year I tried to engage more people, but I understood that it was inconvenient, because you needed both a locker room and a shower. There were certain organizational aspects that Zoolatech took care of.
This year we agreed that we would run wherever we could in the morning and then later we would gather for a picnic or at a cafe. I run three to five times a week for four to five kilometers, so this run was a workout for me.
When I do sports, I make sure to record my sessions in Strava. The cool thing about it is that any workout that lasts more than half an hour counts.
I’m also learning how to roller-skate and even if I go out for a walk, I always record it for charity. There's a lot of respect generated for the company when you look at the money raised from your workouts and know how well it has been spent.
The winners usually choose where we transfer the money. We once donated to "Enjoying Life," which is a Kyiv-based organization. And another time, we visited senior citizens at 30 addresses and handed out food packages to them as volunteers on the eve of St. Nicholas Day. The next day, we gave presents to children in orphanages. I'd like to participate in more of these activities, but as long as the war is going on, all of the company's charity is for the army.
I don't count the money and I try to donate a little at a time; even 20 USD is important, especially if everyone donates.
I regularly donate, especially when my colleagues raise money; I trust them one hundred percent. We have a "Temp War" channel, where all the donations are organized and reported. The guys buy helmets, cars, uniforms, and arrange everything themselves. One of my colleagues has a brother who works at a service station where they repair military equipment and upgrade ordinary cars to make them more militarized.
When I watch a show called "Pravo na Poplavu" and they say they need money, I donate a bit when I feel I can.
How do you cope emotionally?
I want to go on a little vacation, buy myself and my daughter bicycles and new roller skates to do figure skating. I read books, go roller skating, talk to my kid, and run. My daughter started running with me, too, and even stole my sweatpants.
I take war as a harsh reality. Terrible news is coming out, terrible things are happening. I heard everything that was happening in Bucha and Irpen. But I can't fall into depression. I have a 10-year-old daughter with whom I need to talk and go out, so life goes on.
Of course, you shouldn't devalue or lose sight of what's going on right now. But when all the people are depressed, those at the front lines also feel it.
It's important to always have unwavering confidence that we will fight back successfully — it helps a lot.