A Different Dawn: Waking up to War in Kyiv

Ukraine native and Knight-Hennessy scholar looks for light in the darkness of war.

March 07, 2024

| by Salome Mikadze
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The Monument to the Founders of Kyiv, in Navodnytskyi Park, Kyiv, Ukraine | Shutterstock.com

February 24, 2022, 4:27 am. As Kyiv lay quiet in the early hours, the sudden piercing blast of a Kh-47M2 Kinzhal rocket changed everything. That morning, instead of preparing for team meetings, I was awakened to a dangerous new reality.

What we thought was just another day at work became the start of a nightmare we’re still living in two years later.

Before the full-scale invasion, we were all about innovation at Movadex, a digital agency I started when I was 19, while still an undergraduate student. We weren’t just any IT company; we were at the forefront of innovation, creating software that was redefining tech standards globally. Movadex was and remains a hub of digital creativity and insight, developing unique software solutions for over 200 companies worldwide. Yet, that first missile strike shattered more than just the city’s calm; it crushed our world along with those buildings.

My family and our cats found ourselves crammed into bomb shelters — the hard, cold ground beneath us serving as a makeshift bed. We were often left scrambling for the basics — food, warmth, and water seemed like luxuries. But giving up was never an option. Despite the bleakness, our determination to push through, to help each other out, never wavered. The struggle to connect with loved ones through a simple phone call became a daily battle against the silence left by a communication blackout.

During those days, every part of who I was seemed to unravel. I grappled with understanding my identity and my purpose, as survival instincts took over. Initially, our priority was finding water. Then, as days turned into weeks, we learned to defend ourselves. Months in, our focus shifted to staying connected — finding ways to keep working and support our country despite the chaos. As Russian tanks advanced toward cities, waves of fear and hope sent millions searching for safety, marking a mass departure driven by the instinct to survive yet hold onto hope.

Those early months sculpted a portrait of human endurance. Amidst the blaring of air sirens and the chilling echoes of distant explosions, we found the best of humanity. It emerged in the darkest of places — our shelters became bastions of strength, our bombed streets classrooms of resilience. Our hearts were heavy with loss, the sorrow of a nation mourning its brave soldiers defending their homeland against overwhelming odds. Yet, in this crucible, Ukraine’s spirit never wavered.

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The author, Salome Mikadze (far left), and fellow Movadex team members | Courtesy Salome Mikadze

We united as a nation, donating our money and constructing supply chains with an efficiency that peacetime bureaucracy could never achieve. We affirmed that even in the shadow of death, life persists — defiant, unyielding. At Movadex, we evolved into a crucial support pillar for Ukraine’s defense, collaborating with over 400 IT companies through the Lviv IT Cluster to reinforce cybersecurity, preventing dozens of attacks. We established the Movadex Relief Center, offering aid to hundreds of refugees and actively donating to more than 20 organizations, directly supporting our soldiers and volunteers with essential resources and protective gear, embodying our commitment to stand united in adversity. No two days were the same — each one brought a new challenge — securing Starlink for communication, organizing protective gear supply chains, arranging food deliveries through family networks, and even dispatching birthing equipment to high-risk areas. Our varied efforts underlined a commitment to adaptively meet the urgent needs of our community and soldiers.

Throughout this war, initiated by an unforeseen and unprovoked assault rooted in sheer malice and extreme ruthlessness, Ukraine has not only defended its own sovereignty but also stood as a resolute guardian for the free world, paying a price no nation should ever have to.

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“On the 47th day of the siege, from a bomb shelter, I barely managed to submit my application to the Stanford Graduate School of Business.”

To date, official reports have confirmed the tragic loss of 30,000 Ukrainian lives. In cities such as Mariupol, still under the shadow of occupation, the death toll is feared to be in the tens of thousands more — a grim figure that, for now, remains beyond our grasp. Drone footage offers a haunting glimpse into these areas, revealing a landscape of utter devastation. But in this darkness, Ukraine’s light shines even brighter. We’ve seen what happens when a nation, its people, and its businesses come together, not just to survive but to thrive against the odds. Movadex’s transformation from a tech startup to one of thousands of lifelines for a nation under siege exemplifies this spirit. We’ve learned lessons of adaptability, resilience, and the indomitable will to carry on — lessons that resonate with every entrepreneur, every leader, and every citizen facing adversity.

The war stripped me of my identity, leaving me to question my place in this world. Surviving became my reality. On the 47th day of the siege, from a bomb shelter, I barely managed to submit my application to the Stanford Graduate School of Business while clinging to a weak WiFi signal. Later, while still amidst turmoil, I applied to Knight-Hennessy Scholars as a second-generation refugee, marked by the scars of Russian aggression.

In a world still far from the peace it once promised, my greatest hope is for my children to live in the true peace that we’ve been longing for. This journey, marked by resilience amid turmoil, has sharpened my vision for the kind of leader I want to be. Driven by the broken promises that shadow our past, I am committed to building a future where unity and healing prevail.

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The Movadex team. | Courtesy Salome Mikadze

As we Ukrainians look ahead, the path is etched with the memories of those we’ve lost; yet it’s also paved by the resilience of those who stand firm. This war has unveiled the steep price of freedom and the strength found in unity, showing that our nation’s essence is carved not just by history but by the courage of its people. Two years on, in a shattered world, Ukraine remains unyielding. Our collective journey, marked by adversity yet driven by a vision of peace and sovereignty, mirrors my own.

Each day, we rise with a resolve as steadfast as the dawn itself. Reflecting on the initial shock of that February morning, I envision the day when peace will once again reign, a day for which our spirits, unbroken and resilient, continue to yearn — a new day we strive to greet, not just for Ukraine, but for the world.

Salome Mikadze (2023 cohort), a native of Kyiv, Ukraine, is a Knight-Hennessy scholar pursuing an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business. As co-founder of IT company Movadex and chair of the Movadex Relief Center, Salome is working to create sustainable social change in her home country and beyond.

This story was originally published on February 23, 2024, by Knight-Hennessy Scholars.

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