"No one in need should be left alone"
Responding to the war in Ukraine, Bayer employees have set up a unique initiative to organize shelter and support in neighboring countries for Ukrainian Bayer employees and their extended family – an exceptional example of solidarity and collective commitment from the team.
It was a matter of hours. After Russian troops launched their attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, thousands of Ukrainians began to flee immediately, trying to escape the war and seeking safety and protection. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than a million refugees – mostly women and children – crossed the borders into neighboring countries in the first week, and more than 2,8 million so far. Many more are on the move. Almost everyone heads westwards, and more than every second – more than 1,7 million as of now – has fled to Poland.
People in Central Eastern Europe have seen this first-hand. As Senior Bayer Representative in Central Eastern Europe based in Warsaw, Markus Baltzer leads the Bayer team in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia – all neighboring countries to Ukraine – and the Czech Republic. Countries, which are at the forefront of the humanitarian crisis that the invasion is causing. As Baltzer and his team saw the photos and videos of masses leaving their homes in Ukraine, they immediately knew that they quickly and pragmatically needed to help those in urgent need of protection and support.
“The last two weeks were extremely stressful, also emotionally,” says Baltzer. With an unprecedented initiative, the Bayer team in Poland and other neighboring countries is helping to get colleagues and their families from Ukraine to safety. The initiative in Poland started with forming a fast-response team in Gdansk where Bayer operates a large Service Center. The team, which includes Ukrainian speakers, was operational in less than two days and took on the coordination of operational support and other services. A colleague from Berlin developed a platform where colleagues could sign up to provide shelter. Bayer leaders of all neighboring countries of Ukraine set up one crisis team to discuss psychological support, transport from the borders and other critical topics.
The result: Since beginning of March, a hotline for Ukrainian colleagues is working 7 days a week, day and night. Safe shelter or support was provided to over 300 colleagues and their families. Around 600 Bayer colleagues from various European countries near Ukraine signed up for providing shelter for refugees. And more than 120 colleagues are volunteering as “Border Angels”, picking up refugees at the borders and getting them safely into shelter in Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. “The engagement of the team is overwhelming. I am very proud of how we are stepping up to help our Ukrainian colleagues and their families,” says Baltzer.
Providing safety and stability
Baltzer is particularly impressed how his colleagues are going the extra mile to provide refugees shelter and help them to feel at home: “We try to really give the refugees what they need. When a family of eight did not want to be separated but we had nobody to accommodate such a large group, we rented an apartment for them. When it turned out that one of the children who came along was a gifted piano player, the colleague where he now lives organized a keyboard,” he adds.
Markus Baltzer himself welcomed two women and a child to his home in Warsaw. He therefore knows that emotional and psychological support is just as important as safety. That’s why Bayer also organizes such support for those who are offering shelter.
A crisis team is constantly monitoring the situation and deciding what needs to be done next. Many refugees – as soon as they are emotionally able to – have offered to help at the Service Center to organize shelter for others, taking phone calls and providing advice in people’s native language.
Although Baltzer knows that the shelter initiative is already helping many colleagues from Ukraine, he hopes that others feel inspired and follow the example of his team. This is all the more important as the UNHCR expects up to 4 million refugees from Ukraine in the coming weeks. “In these difficult times, no one in need must be left alone. We’re facing new hurdles every day, but so far, we mastered all challenges. And we feel the gratitude and what it means to people. This gives us a lot of motivation to carry on”.
Bayer strengthens humanitarian response for Ukraine
In addition to the shelter initiative, Bayer has set up a 3 Million Euro disaster relief fund to strengthen emergency measures in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The support fund will benefit international and local humanitarian aid organizations engaging in Ukraine and Eastern European neighboring states.
The fund includes employee donations of more than 900,000 Euros to the German Red Cross which will be matched by Bayer. Further, Bayer provided critical medical products including antibiotics for 27,000 patients on request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health.