With warm words and fast visas, neighbours woo IT workers fleeing Belarus

By Ilya Zhegulev, Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Andrius Sytas

KYIV/VILNIUS (Reuters) – After Max Korolevsky said he was detained and beaten by security forces during mass protests in Belarus, he asked his IT company to transfer him to neighbouring Ukraine.

The 30-year-old, head of software testing at a technology firm he declined to name, is now in Kyiv, part of an exodus of workers from Belarus’ flourishing IT sector who are fleeing turmoil since a disputed Aug. 9 election.

Mass protests have rocked the country and represent the gravest threat to President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule since he took power 26 years ago.

Neighbouring countries from Ukraine to the Baltics have rolled out the welcome mat for people like Korolevsky and are wooing companies to relocate with fast-track immigration procedures, tax breaks and help finding office space.

Poland, for example, has set up a 24-hour hotline and offered fast visas, Polish language classes for children and funding for start-ups.

Some Belarusian tech firms are transferring employees abroad or looking to move out altogether, saying a crackdown on protests made employees feel unsafe and internet blackouts disrupted business.

In response to Reuters questions about the exodus, the state-run Belarus Hi-Tech Park, the country’s IT hub, played down the impact of IT workers leaving.

“Hi-Tech Park has held thorough analysis of the real situation, including consultations with CEOs and key investors,” it said. “It (is) clear that most IT-related businessmen are willing to keep working in Belarus as before.”

For countries offering to take in IT workers, it is a chance to scoop up professionals from a thriving industry that accounts for 5% of Belarusian exports.

Some 2,000 IT workers moved from Belarus to Ukraine since mass protests broke out following the Aug. 9 election, Ukraine’s Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov told Reuters.