Ukrainian creative agency Twid is resolutely clear in what it wants – more global clients, “to prevail over the terrorist state” – and what it doesn’t. “In Ukraine, we don’t want to feel that foreigners are making indulgences for us – we don’t want to miss deadlines or not reply to emails,” says Alex (Sasha) Alymov, partner and business lead.
Running an agency in wartime is, to say the very least, complex – emotionally, financially, and practically. But the Twid team – originally based in Kyiv but now spread across various places including Warsaw and Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, where Alymov is currently staying – seems stridently business as usual, as far as that’s possible.
In the early days when war first broke out, naturally work was put on hold as the Twid team decided where they were heading, or if they were leaving Kyiv at all. “But in two weeks, we decided to continue our work as we were safe – we were in good circumstances compared to soldiers or businesses that couldn’t continue their work,” says Alymov. “We had wanted to go into the global market for a while, but this was a good push to start doing that actively.”
Alex Twista, Twid co-founder and creative director, says that while it was only two weeks until the studio started working again, “it was difficult to find motivation like you did before – there was such a change of priorities … different things inspire you now compared to before the war”. Diana Kudasheva, strategic lead, adds, “first of all it was all about just trying to be calm and stop feeling disoriented – and trying to understand what we needed to do, and how to do that”.
Initially, the Twid team set about working on some socially minded projects that looked to use their skills in creating communication materials to help Ukraine’s war effort. “There was no decoration – just a focus on the meaning,” says Alymov. “Absolutely no perfectionism, just sending important messages to the people.” These included information and videos about things like where people could donate to the cause.
“Creatives have become a huge power in this ‘infowar’,” Alymov continues, “they’re the reason that we’re winning it. A lot of Ukrainian creative people have become very motivated warriors in the infowar environment; making banners, messages, posters and so on and creating a lot of ideas about how to communicate and how to bring this topic up in world headlines.
“I think that’s one of the main reasons why Ukraine became top of mind in the media actually – because of creatives…. But it’s always easy to work with truth – everyone understood that. Russian propaganda has not been so innovative … we understood how to change the situation.”
Both Ania Poly, UX/UI designer at Twid and Kudasheva agree that before the war, the team had little engagement with news and politics – they only began subscribing to news channels after the invasion, for instance. “We realised we are part of the defence, and the materials and campaigns we can produce can have a big impact on the war situation in our country,” says Kudasheva. “We only really realised that now.”
One of the biggest changes for the team on a day-to-day level was adapting to using different languages. Before the war, the Twid team were Russian speakers; but since, they’ve switched to only using Ukrainian, and English for work. “It was such a huge change of mentality,” says Alymov. “We spoke English a little before, but now we need to pitch our ideas to clients and negotiate and so on in English and it’s a huge challenge for us.” He points out that since Covid, remote working has been normalised, which has helped in their bid to work with more clients outside Ukraine.
The team has also had to get used to power cuts, and now it’s got to the point where it “doesn’t really affect our work”, says Alymov. “We know the scheduling of these cuts and find the places where you can work that still have electricity and the internet. All this stuff makes us stronger actually.” “It’s like the gamification of it!’ adds Twista. “It shows the power of adaptation too,” says Kudasheva. “I think if we can do this, we can adapt to anything.”
As an outsider, it’s hard to imagine what an invaded country feels like and looks like day to day, away from the front line; and what it’s like to keep on working in the same job, with the same people, but under very, very different (not to mention difficult) circumstances. Aside from the presence of very loud generators on the streets, and total darkness at night time (even in Chernivtsi, “a very safe place”, according to Alymov), it’s largely about connectivity, it seems. “I’ve heard that Ukrainians are now the most up to date people in the world, because we follow news feeds constantly – everything changes so fast. We’ve now got into not just Ukraine news, but UK politics, US politics … we’ve become more global because of the war,” says Alymov.
Since those trickier first weeks of war, and with the team settled in various places across Ukraine and elsewhere, Twid’s strategy has worked: it now boasts clients across Canada, Iraqi Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, USA, the UK and more; and has forged an ongoing relationship with London-based agency Red Bee Creative, with the companies working together on joint projects. It’s even expanding the team, looking to hire for roles including art director, designer, and copywriter. Business-wise, things seem positive.
But on a more practical level, many people still have bags prepared, just in case they need to up and leave at a moment’s notice, Kudasheva tells CR. “For the first few weeks I think we all felt disoriented and sad and stressed, but it’s become a really interesting situation because I think that it’s totally reinforced our values, our self-confidence, and our understanding of who we are,” she says. “People abroad are always asking ‘how are you? Is everything okay? How do you live there?’ Let’s just say there are a few problems but we’re alright because we have this desire to fight and that we will never give up.
“There’s a really interesting dissonance here because on the one hand we’re facing problems that have changed our habits and how we live our lives, but on the other hand we’re confident that we want to fight in other ways – we can buy things [from Ukraine] to help our country; we can make sure our contracts work in ways that can give our country taxes and we can take on important projects and things like that.”
Twista says that it feels as though they’re living “two parallel lives”: in the daytime, with work, it’s business as usual to a degree, “which was really interesting and inspiring”; but this was a huge contrast to the constant stream of news that was arriving on Telegram. Poly adds, “I think our brain has smart mechanisms that help us to work in difficult circumstances – so somehow we can work, enjoy music, watch films, sometimes even dance. So it’s strange, but our life is a contrast now.”