In early March 2022, the American Rental Association (ARA) was contacted by Viktor Danko, CEO of Kyiv, Ukraine-based Rider Rent, who reached out via Facebook to inquire about the availability of support mechanisms through the association.
Rider Rent provides a range of services that power live events across Ukraine, including sound, lighting, staging and A/V equipment rentals. The business’ operations came to a grinding halt in the early morning hours of Feb. 24 when Russian bombs began to fall on Ukrainian soil. The barrage heralded the start of the ongoing large-scale invasion that has turned thriving Ukrainian business owners like Danko into armed defenders of the country’s cities and villages.
To better understand Danko’s story as a Ukrainian rental business owner; what he, his family and his employees have experienced during the Russian invasion; and what his plans are for the future, Rental Management’s Brock Huffstutler — with the cooperation of James Auerbach, ARA vice president, event segment — spoke via Zoom with Danko and his son, Rider Rent crew member and translation partner, Alex.
Rental Management: How are you doing today? Are you and your family safe?
Viktor: Yes, I can tell you we are safe today. We are trying to stay safe and cool and positive. We were forced to leave Kyiv because it is very dangerous now. Our guys who stay in Kyiv every day listen to [weapons] firing shots. My family and I are in a village now with many people from Kyiv, Kharkiv or Odessa, which is a big city in Ukraine.
|Viktor Danko (left) and son, Alex, speak with Rental Management via Zoom on March 14, 2022. Click here to watch an edited version of the conversation.
Rental Management: How are you handling each day with this ongoing conflict — what is your daily experience like right now?
Viktor: It’s mixed between city life and village life. We do what village people must do. Every afternoon we cut trees for our house, and we walk to the market to buy groceries. And we try to not check the news all the time because in our phones, we have news and news and news. If we read all this news, we don’t have time to work on what we can do now. I have video calls with my team, my partners, my clients and with the people who need support now.
Rental Management: When did you realize that the Russian invasion was coming and was really going to happen?
Viktor: When enemy Putin said in an interview about a war in Ukraine, we did not believe it. We continued to do our business — not only our company in the rental market, but all Ukrainian people. Because we are used to living in some crisis — we have many crises: [the Ukraine conflict of] 2014, the coronavirus and now, when Putin spoke about war, we thought, “Ah, we must continue to do our business,” and our clients did not stop their events.
Alex: As soon as we started to hear the noise on the border, the explosions, we stopped our work. The war started Feb. 24, and, on that day, we had an event which we were preparing for. Some equipment was on location and, sadly, it is there right now. We can’t take our equipment back because now this location is in war activity.
Rental Management: Once it became a reality that the Russians were invading Ukraine, what were you able to do to prepare your family and your business?
Alex: On Feb. 24, we stopped our work. We called our employees and told them to prepare to move out from the city if they were able to. If not, they needed to stay at home. We paid their salaries for February and March as we were able. Some of our people, even though it is dangerous, really wanted to help our country. One of our employees went to our warehouse and said he wanted to stay there to protect our equipment, maybe help some volunteers and our military. No one is able to reach our warehouse right now.
|Viktor Danko (left) with a Rider Rent team member in 2021
When the war started, we gave our radio sets, our helmets, and our generators to help our guys who are protecting and defending us right now. We even gave some of our stage equipment to build some barricades.
And now, some of our employees who really wanted to help our city and our country are now trying to help other citizens who are not able to move from the city and who do not have food. We are always in touch with them. They are always trying to help as many people as they can and, sadly, now we are actually defending our village.
We went to the local police. We joined with them and two or three times per week, we go to a blockade post and there we sit with guns for 12 hours. If someone is coming through, we stop them, check their documents and their car, and then we pass them through if everything is OK.
Sadly, our people — citizens, not guys who are in the military — are now forced to take weapons in their hands and defend their places.
Rental Management: What is happening right now with your business property and equipment?
Alex: Gladly, everything is OK. We don’t know exactly what is going on with something like the helmets or radio sets or generators, but in this situation, that is not the point of our worries. We worry about our people. If we can give something to protect them, we will give it.
Rental Management: Are you able to stay in touch with your employees? How are they coping with what is happening?
Alex: We are in touch with them. We are texting or calling each other every day. Gladly, everything is OK but sadly, some of our employees are left without their flats or houses. They were destroyed. Rockets just came from the air and destroyed everything. But everyone is OK, everyone is safe and alive.
Viktor: Some of our employees tried to move their families abroad, but now it is very hard. We don’t have many resources to help them in this.
Rental Management: What has happened with jobs you had booked for the future? I imagine everything is on hold indefinitely until you learn what happens with the situation.
Alex: Sadly, we can’t think farther out, for months or for weeks. We don’t know what is going to happen in the next day, so we cannot plan something that will help our market or our partners because we don’t know if their warehouses will be destroyed tomorrow or even today.
Viktor: We are planning right now and trying to figure out how to export our equipment abroad to some of our partners and looking for new ones.
Rental Management: From your perspective as a Ukrainian, do you have any thoughts about what direction this conflict will take or how long it may last?
Viktor: We don’t know, because this is the first time for a situation like this — not only in Ukraine, but in the world. We understand that we can’t plan things for the long future. We try to think about today and maybe tomorrow, and that’s all.
|Viktor Danko in a village in the Cherkasy region of Ukraine, March 2022
Rental Management: I know it may be hard to provide an answer, but can you tell us your thoughts about what comes next for you and your business?
Alex: That’s a bit of a hard question. But as I mentioned before, we are focusing on exporting our equipment and our team abroad for some time because we don’t know what will happen after this war. We want to be sure our team is safe, that they can work, and that they can help themselves and their families.
Viktor: And now we are trying something inside our country. We are asking every best specialist from Ukraine to join us in trying to do a production studio and find clients abroad. It’s a production studio that creates some media shows, some content for media, set up for lighting or design, because, like I said before, we have very good, creative specialists for show business in Ukraine.
Click here to read about how Danko’s company, Rider Rent, specializes in powering live events in Ukraine.
Editor’s note: ARA staff members plan to keep in touch with Viktor and his team as the conflict in Ukraine progresses and will provide updates as they become available. Members of the ARA board of directors also are engaged in Viktor’s experience and plan to take up a personal collection to help the employees of Rider Rent.
How you can help the people of Ukraine
When tragic events unfold in faraway locations, the natural inclination for many is to offer financial support to organizations that are in a position to help. One such entity among many that can help is CNN’s Impact Your World, which is facilitating donations for humanitarian aid in the form of food, shelter and medical assistance for Ukrainian civilians who have had to flee their homes during the Russian invasion.
Visit cnn.com/specials/impact-your-world for more information about how to donate to this effort, and to view the specific organizations your gift will benefit.