You might know Tetyana Struk as the owner of the Ukrainian LSP Linguistic Centre. Originally from Moldova, she now lives and works in Lviv, Ukraine, and is very active in the language community there. She even runs an annual translation competition for high schoolers who want to pursue a degree in translation and collaborates closely with universities.
At the beginning of this month, Tetyana sent her husband off to war with a heartbreaking post on social media. In between bomb alarms, she made time for us to tell us what it is like to manage a localization firm from war torn Ukraine.
What else should anyone know who is maybe not so familiar with you about what you do? How did you get involved in the localization business?
Thank you for inviting me a to speak. I started a translation business 24 years ago. I was the first Ukrainian to go to the Lisa Conference in 2003. People would come and ask me where Ukraine was and whether it was part of Russia. Of course, things have changed a lot since then. It was a huge advantage being the first: Companies were eager to share information and teach us what localization was all about. As we started growing, I developed close relationships with universities to be able to satisfy our increasing demand for linguists. We also had a lot of very interesting initiatives: publishing books about translators and exhibitions with photos of translators. We were having a lot of fun.
Things of course have changed a little bit in these last couple of weeks. We saw your social media about having to send your husband off to war at the beginning of this month. What can you tell us about the situation that you are in?
Actually, my husband was not even supposed to be called to war. He is 53. He volunteered because of his military experience in the past. For him it probably was not only about protecting Ukraine but also about protecting his two sons. Hopefully by him going first, there will not be a need for them to go. It’s really something you can’t prepare for. I am proud of him doing this. It’s the right thing to do. I really hope and I am not even thinking of any other options than that he will be safe.
How does the communication work? Are you in touch with him on a regular basis? Do you get updates?
Yes, he calls in the morning and in the evening when he has time. Things are very busy at the moment, of course. He texts me when he cannot call. It’s always a great relief to hear from him.
It gets hectic enough running a company normally, so it is difficult to imagine what you are going through with a war going on. How is it affecting your business?
In November we started a new family event organizing business. At Linguistic Centre we have two divisions: one works with MLVs and the other with local clients. Since I wanted to dedicate some more time to the new venture, I delegated project management to the division that is in Poland. It wasn’t really premeditated as much as a coincidence. In retrospect it feels like a really smart decision now. All our localization processes never stopped no matter what was going on here in Ukraine. Of course a lot of our linguists in Ukraine are affected but it could all be managed from Poland. It gave me a chance to concentrate on helping with the refugee crisis here on the ground. From the second day we accepted a lot of refugees here in the house.
There’s a lot of people that have fled over the borders. I’m just amazed at the courage that is displayed by the people like yourself that are staying. I was wondering whether leaving is an option you are considering.
Of course, I have doubts and it’s not really courage that is making me stay. My two sons are not able to leave the country. We have tried to convince my daughter to leave but she does not want to for the moment. I have mixed feelings because only two days ago we had the first bombing in Lviv, and it is awfully scary.
That’s difficult to imagine. What do you do when there is a bombing like that?
As the air raid alarm sounds, we seek refuge into our basement which by now is well equipped. It’s a feeling of utter helplessness. I can’t even imagine what people in Mariupol or Kharkiv must go through. We had some people from that last city stay with us for a couple of days and they were traumatized. It was hard to even look at them.
I’m not sure you have noticed, but the tight knit localization community has really galvanized around some initiatives to help our colleagues in Ukraine. At MultiLingual, we have reported extensively on #Languagepledge #Ukrainian which is soliciting businesses to commit to continuing on with Ukrainian localization regardless of economic benefits. Jan Hinrichs from LocLunch also an artist benefit concert and raised over 10,000 Euros in support of Ukraine. Do you have any specific initiatives that we can support abroad to help?
I have gotten so much support from people in the industry. They write me on a daily basis. People that I met 20 years ago once are getting back in touch to make sure I am OK. What we should be careful of is to not let it slip away. The first couple of weeks, there was lots of interest and attention. I hope people can stay a bit more forgiving when we struggle to keep deadlines. Our translators might be sitting in a shelter or a refugee camp working on a project. Even when people are safely working from abroad, they are still affected by what is going on inside of Ukraine psychologically. So we ask for some extra understanding in that regard and please don’t take advantage reducing rates.
What do you think we don’t understand very well, or we should understand better about what is going on in Ukraine?
Well, Ukraine is definitely not Russia. Although people often consider the population of both countries very close, it should be clear they are not the same countries. As someone who arrived in Ukraine from Moldova when I was 15, I could clearly see the differences. Attitudes to life, to country and government, are not the same. Understand that we are people and not statistics. My daughter, who volunteers a lot at the train station working with refugees, was asked: “Where did you work before the war?” That’s when I realized our lives have been changed forever. We are people with broken destinies. Nobody should take what they have for granted.
Do you have any message for MLV or direct localization clients?
When we win, we will be the best stress-resilient and battle-hardened localization providers around. Thank you again for thinking of us and not forgetting about us.