Andy Kurtzig and his family plan to spend spring break at a destination that most are fleeing.
The JustAnswer chief executive, along with his wife Sara and their three kids — Jamie, 17; Kelly, 13; and Kai, 12 — are stuffing their suitcases with medical supplies, drones and body armor for a week-long trip to the Ukrainian border. While his family stays in undisclosed EU border towns, Andy plans to slip into battle-torn Ukraine for a day to deliver supplies to JustAnswer’s offices, where more than 200 people continue to work despite Russia’s invasion.
By all accounts, it is the first known visit by an American CEO to oversee operations in Ukraine.
“I want to spread the message to other U.S. business leaders, especially those in tech, that they need to do more to support the Ukrainian people and their economy,” said Kurtzig, who has discussed his trip with other tech executives but is unaware of anyone else following his lead. “The execs I talked to think it is a good idea.”
Some 39 JustAnswer employees in Ukraine have left the country. Those remaining work from home, when they aren’t forced to evacuate to bomb shelters.
“Many of our employees consider work a respite from all the horrible things happening in their country,” Kurtzig said.
For the Kurtzig family, spring break used to be an annual jaunt to Hawaii. No big surprise there, given Andy Kurtzig’s predilection for Hawaiian shirts and a chance to visit his mom Sandy, a former tech exec, who lives there. But his family bought into the idea of going to Ukraine instead — especially oldest child Jamie, who is Stanford University-bound and has done extensive work in fundraising.
“We have a special connection with Ukraine,” Kurtzig told MarketWatch as he made last-minute preparations. His family spent six months in Ukraine during the 2019-20 school year as part of a gap year, spending the other half of the year in India.
The ultimate goal of the trip is to bring aid to Ukraine, home to more than one-fourth of JustAnswer’s workforce. The company has hired about a dozen people since Russia’s invasion and has gone to great lengths to stay up and running through backup diesel generators, laptops and internet service.
But medical and protective supplies are scarce, and shipping is not an option. To that end, Kurtzig family is bringing luggage with tourniquets, body armor, drones, night-vision goggles and trauma kits.
“We want to thank them for their courage in fighting off one of the world’s superpowers. They’ve done an incredible job,” Kurtzig said. “Most of the Ukraine economy is not able to function, but IT [information technology] is.”
Kurtzig’s plan has been in the works for a few weeks. Ukrainian officials have agreed to help him cross the border, though he has not “officially talked” to the U.S. government.
“It could be a very long day” in Ukraine, Kurtzig admitted.
In an email to MarketWatch, the State Department reiterated advice to U.S. citizens not to travel to Ukraine “due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials.”
Kurtzig’s humanitarian mission is the most high-profile effort yet by an American executive to a region heavily stamped with Silicon Valley’s imprint.
Startups, midsize companies and major brands such as Google parent Alphabet Inc.
Cisco Systems Inc.
and Snap Inc.
have made significant investments in a country that has been a vital resource for engineering talent, 3-D modeling and customer service.
Cloud-services company Wix.com
one of Israel’s largest employers in Ukraine, said it had evacuated most of its 1,000 employees and their families to Turkey, with Wix picking up the tab for moving expenses. Cisco has also evacuated employees out of Ukraine.