International industrial and consumer goods producer Henkel has been present in Ukraine for a quarter of a century and had established four production facilities in the country by the time of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Eighteen months on, three of Henkel’s production facilities in Ukraine are currently operational, while the company has retained almost its entire 600-person Ukrainian workforce and continues to actively invest in the country. Henkel Ukraine President and HR Director Olena Yefremova-Kursik spoke to Business Ukraine magazine about the company’s wartime experience and explained why Henkel believes in Ukraine’s future.
Nobody who was in Ukraine on 24 February, 2022, will ever forget it. What were the first days of the Russian invasion like for Henkel Ukraine?
From the very first hours of the invasion, our top priority was ensuring the safety of our colleagues and providing as much support as possible. We suspended all business and production processes for safety reasons, with all employees receiving their salaries for three months in advance along with a one-time bonus payment. Those in need received additional emergency financial assistance and help in relocating to safe places in Ukraine or abroad, with accommodation costs covered for the first few months. Henkel colleagues from neighboring European countries met Ukrainians at the border and helped organize accommodation. Some Ukrainian employees were later given the opportunity to work in Henkel offices elsewhere in Europe. Overall, the company’s support package for Henkel Ukraine staff exceeded UAH 33 million.
How has the military situation over the last eighteen months affected the day-to-day operations of Henkel in Ukraine?
As soon as the situation allowed, the company began to return to normal operations. The first products were shipped as early as March 2022; our production facility in Lviv region reopened in April; and the factory in Kyiv region reopened in May. In the middle of 2023, the company resumed operations at its plant in the Kharkiv region, which had been damaged as a result of temporary occupation. The plant in Kherson region is located in occupied territory and is not currently operating.
Despite the temporary suspension of operations, the company continued to support all of its Ukrainian employees, with salaries being paid in full. Similarly, Henkel Ukraine continued to supply its customers and serve its consumers. Like everyone else, we have faced considerable infrastructure and logistical challenges with loss of access to some traditional markets. However, our diversified portfolio of products and brands allows us to maintain a balanced business.
Have you managed to implement your business plans despite the extremely difficult wartime circumstances?
Since the Covid pandemic, business planning has become agile in order to respond quickly to the changing market and operating environment. The war has forced the cancellation of some plans, put others on hold, and confirmed the relevance of many previously chosen strategies.
Over the past year, the company has resumed its investment programs in Ukraine, investing in new technologies while expanding and upgrading the capacity of its existing production facilities. Since the outbreak of the full-scale invasion, Henkel has invested a total of EUR 1.5 million in our Ukrainian production facilities. Key areas include modernisation, sustainability, digitalisation, and most importantly, the safety of our employees. Another focus of our investment activity in Ukraine is the development of a new line of construction adhesives. Despite the difficulties and challenges, we are strengthening our local R&D potential and our business units have introduced new products.
How has Henkel Ukraine contributed to the humanitarian situation in the country, both from the perspective of your team and the wider community?
Henkel’s humanitarian aid projects in Ukraine amount to more than EUR 6 million. This includes support for employees and humanitarian aid to the wider community in the form of both financial support and product donations. The support we have seen from Henkel colleagues around the world has been particularly touching; Henkel employees from a number of different countries have donated more than EUR 100,000 from their own pockets to help Ukrainians.
Henkel is an official partner and supplier of humanitarian aid to the SpivDiia platform, which was launched with the support of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian authorities. During our partnership with SpivDiia, we have helped tens of thousands of people along with dozens of medical facilities and hospitals, refugee shelters, foundations, and volunteer organisations across Ukraine.
We are also helping to rebuild social infrastructure such as kindergartens and hospitals by providing our building materials, as well as helping people whose homes have been damaged across Ukraine via a special UAH 3 million program entitled help.ceresit.ua. Another example of our humanitarian efforts is our support for children suffering as a result of the war. In addition to supporting foundations and children’s institutions, we have made a financial donation to the Children Without War initiative, which enables thousands of vulnerable Ukrainian orphans to live and study abroad.
As a responsible business, we aim to provide reliable support to our employees, partners, and the communities in which we operate, as well as to the national budget and economy. We continue to invest in our Ukrainian production facilities because we believe in Ukraine’s future.
Henkel was one of the first international companies in its sector to withdraw completely from the Russian market. How challenging was this process?
Henkel decided to leave Russia back in April 2022. The process involved 11 production sites with 2,500 employees. Leaving Russia turned out to be a very complex and lengthy process, not only because of the deep integration of business processes in Russia into the global Henkel world, but also because of the difficult and changing legal environment, especially for companies from so-called “unfriendly states.” One year later, in April 2023, we were able to close the deal. With this transaction, Henkel became one of the first international companies in its sector to withdraw completely from the Russian market.
As you look to develop your vision for the future of Henkel Ukraine, do you anticipate further investment and expansion?
The company is currently investing in the reconstruction and technological upgrade of its Ukrainian facilities. We are constantly looking to expand our business activities in Ukraine, which underlines our commitment to the country.
What are the most important lessons you have learned as president of a company operating during wartime conditions?
Keeping in touch with the team and providing a reliable support system for colleagues is the main source of strength for companies in difficult times. This applies equally to managing processes, supporting colleagues, and helping people in need. Teamwork is the basis of resilience: department and division heads keep in touch with colleagues, even those in temporarily occupied regions of the country. The willingness of the company and its management to lend their strong shoulder to employees in times of difficulty and to help them is invaluable. It is a source of inspiration that unites people.
About the interviewee: Olena Yefremova-Kursik is President and HR Director at Henkel Ukraine.