The pandemic has been devastating for Ukraine, with underfunded health services struggling to contain COVID-19 contagion. Scenes of hospitals overwhelmed with patients and lacking staff, equipment, and medication will haunt us even as cases drop and vaccinations rise. It has been a traumatic time for our team at the Kyiv Dentons office. We have been working hard to support and guide each other towards the glimmer of light at the end of this long and, at times scary, tunnel.
What strikes me as most noteworthy is that the pandemic is only one more chapter in Ukraine’s difficult and conflict-ridden recent past. Ukraine remains at war on its eastern front. In fact, it is the world’s largest economy operating during an active conflict on its own soil. This, coupled with the economic after-effects of lockdowns, corruption, and ongoing political power struggles, has put significant pressure on us as we try to support our clients and their businesses.
It is a good thing then that we are no strangers to operating in conditions of serious adversity. Despite the trauma of the pandemic and the fear of an escalating conflict in the East, Ukraine’s economy continues to function, with people digging deep to find energy, ideas, and hidden talents to open new, and grow traditional, businesses. The IT sectors, e-commerce, and home working support are of course booming, much like home delivery for all kinds of goods and services and the rise of domestic tourism due to international travel restrictions. In our particular practice, we are helping global pharmaceutical companies successfully navigate uncertain regulatory environments as they conduct clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The situation in the Ukrainian legal market has been tough and highly competitive since 2008. The number of international players in Ukraine has more than halved since 2005. There was a notable reduction in expenses for external legal advice in transactional practices. At the same time, labor and employment practices, as well as life sciences and technology advisory services, were growing. We have also seen the rise of demand in compliance, cybersecurity, and data privacy. Naturally, dispute resolution, debt restructuring, arbitration, and tax practices will do well. The pandemic has prompted a huge boost to digital and video BD and marketing, as lawyers are expected to make greater efforts in business development.
In the microcosm of our office, we, like everyone else, had to abandon our office routine and move to agile working overnight. This was not as difficult, technologically or logistically, for our team as some of our other European colleagues reported it was for them. Ukraine is well-wired, with low prices for high-speed internet and wide-reaching mobile networks easing the transition to flexible working without too many interruptions.
On the other hand, the learning curve for our team, suddenly deprived of the sociable and stimulating life in our beautiful new offices and plunged into isolated home working, has been steep. We had to quickly fill in any gaps in our communication and task management, and I do believe that taking this forward will make us more efficient as we return to the office in due course.
Working and living in Ukraine is a remarkable experience. As a country in constant transition and as a burgeoning European nation, we have been struggling through numerous political and financial upheavals. Yet with each regime change, revolution, corruption scandal, conflict, and, now, epidemic, we have not only survived but have become more resilient and learned to do better under ever-changing circumstances. We may be dealing with the worst but we are hoping for the best and, in the meantime, we are making it work.
By Oleg Batyuk, Managing Partner, Dentons, Ukraine