Russian-speaking technologists rebuild their lives in a San Francisco home – The Denver Post

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By Cade Metz, The New York Times Company

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past five years, Andrey Doronichev has shared his four-story town house with nearly 100 entrepreneurs, investors and other aspiring technologists from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

Because they spoke Russian, they thought they had a private key that could unlock resources most Silicon Valley technologists could not. As investors, they had the inside track on startups in Kyiv. As entrepreneurs, they could hire engineers in Moscow or raise money from a network of Russian-speaking investors across Asia, Europe and the United States.

But after Russia invaded Ukraine, most of that was gone. Some of it may never return.

“Language tied us together across borders. It gave us benefits no one else had. It was like a secret passage into a larger world of smart people,” said Doronichev, 39, who was born, raised and educated in Moscow before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. “But the war broke so many of those ties.”

Doronichev and his housemates are among the hundreds of Russian-speaking technologists working in the Bay Area who are struggling to rebuild their personal and professional lives after the invasion of Ukraine. Some are from Ukraine. Others are from Belarus or Kazakhstan. Still more are from Russia.

Most are against the war, aligning themselves more with the Western world and the openness they see on the internet than with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. They are wondering what, if anything, they can do to help friends, family and colleagues on the other side of the world, even as they scramble to keep their own careers afloat.

They hoped to create a community of Russian speakers across the globe who could bootstrap new technologies, companies and products for an open internet — an internet that lets anyone communicate with anyone else across borders. But ties are breaking in two key countries: Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine’s tech ecosystem is under siege. The entire Ukrainian economy could shrink more than 40% this year, according to the World Bank.

After foreign governments imposed sanctions on Russia and many American and European companies barred access to banking and internet services, the Russian tech industry is all but cut off from the rest of the world. Tens of thousands of tech professionals are now fleeing the country, unable or unwilling to work behind the curtain.

Doronichev takes pride in his heritage. During the coronavirus pandemic, he built a traditional Russian sauna, or banya, in the basement of his town house. “We sit around hitting each other with tree branches,” he likes to joke. But he is loath to support the Russian economy.

Doronichev and his housemates are unwilling to work with anyone who remains in the country. He also knows that if he keeps employees in the country, he cannot speak out against Putin or the war, for fear those employees will be targeted by the Russian government. “Any employee you have in Russia is a hostage,” he said. “They prevent you from speaking your mind.”

Dasha Kroshkina, a Russian-born entrepreneur, center, ...

Kelsey McClellan, The New York Times

Dasha Kroshkina, a Russian-born entrepreneur, center, who said she has been working to move employees out of Russia and Ukraine, in San Francisco, March 29, 2022. Hundreds of Russian-speaking technologists working in the Bay Area are struggling to rebuild their personal and professional lives after the invasion of Ukraine.

Doronichev left Russia in 2006 after selling a startup that let people buy ringtones via text message. He soon joined a Google engineering office in Dublin, where he helped build YouTube’s first smartphone app.

After taking a new job at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, working on technologies like virtual reality and online gaming, he bought a town house in San Francisco, not far from the city’s Golden Gate Park.

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