Ukraine has not defeated the COVID-19 epidemic, – Equitestlab director Anna Yurchuk on the challenges of war
Anna Yurchuk, Equitestlab director (EQUI ELISA manufacturer)/Photo provided by heroine
Small and medium businesses are gradually returning to work in more or less safe regions of Ukraine. But the war created many obstacles for the normal resumption of business activity.
Anna Yurchuk, Director of “Equitestlab” (manufacturer of a wide range of ELISA kits for diagnosing TM EQUI , including tests for COVID-19) in an interview with Channel 24 told how Russian aggression affected the company. Before the war, “Ekvitestlab” planned to expand production through a new production site in Gostomel. But, as you know, some of the fiercest battles with rashists took place in the hero city.
About what volunteer projects the company supports, what is the need for diagnostic tests and how relevant the issue of testing for COVID-19, as well as the situation with Ukrainian business and opportunities to enter foreign markets, read in our material.
How the company reacted to the war what did management and employees produce in the first month of the war?
With the outbreak of the war, half of the team dispersed. Our main production is located in Kyiv, respectively, employees live either in the capital or in suburban settlements. For example, my deputy for commercial activities, Alexander Kostyuchenko, lives in the Vyshgorod area, and my deputy for production, Anna Demchenko, is from Irpin. And miraculously, she and her son left the city literally on the eve of the most terrible events there. Alexander generally fell into the occupation and was able to escape from it only half a month after the start of the invasion.
Of course, no one worked for the first two weeks. There was a certain silence and fear. We just from time to time contacted the team by phone, found out who and where they were.
And already in the second half of March, our customers and partners began to make phone calls. We produce medical products, but hospitals still work. In particular, hospitals use kits for diagnosing donated blood. Namely, samples are checked for hepatitis and syphilis. I thought, if we are not working, then we need to arrange free assistance to hospitals from the reserves that were formed before the start of a full-scale war.
Who and how did you help?
We supplied hepatitis tests for free to military hospitals. True, there was no need for large volumes of supplies then. They also provided tests to detect viral infections to the Okhmatdet hospital and to the Territorial Medical Association of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in Kyiv for volunteers. In particular, rapid tests for COVID-19 were brought in.
Subsequently, they began to partially resume production, sales of products followed.
With the outbreak of the war, everyone forgot about COVID-19. They even joked that the war defeated the coronavirus pandemic in Ukraine. Is this true, what kind of demand for tests are you facing?
Indeed, the demand for tests for COVID-19 has dropped to a minimum. There was a feeling that people generally stopped being tested and sick with coronavirus and other viral infections. Perhaps there was some stock in the hospitals, and there was no great need for new supplies. I offered ELISA tests for COVID-19 and others to many partners (hospitals, laboratories). She said: “Take it for free, I want to help you.” And they answered that for the time being they had it and would apply if the need arose.
Although the doctors themselves confirm that people have not become less sick with coronavirus and other infectious diseases.
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Director Anna Yurchuk and Deputy for Commercial Activities Alexander Kostyuchenko, “Ekvitestlab”
Why did you decide to start production in Gostomel before the war and what losses did you suffer, because in this hero city there were some of the most fierce battles with the Russians?
We rent space for production needs in Kyiv. As the company developed, they decided to establish activities entirely at their own facilities.
Before the war, they acquired a plot in Gostomel with buildings. Developed a plan for the launch and transfer of production facilities. We began the reconstruction and expansion of the area of buildings.
I would like to note that we have already been approved for the European CE mark for a large number of our EQUI ELISA tests. That is, these products of “Equitestlab” comply with European safety standards and have successfully been registered in the European Union, having received Certificates of Conformity with Directive 98/79/EC on medical devices for in vitro diagnostics.
At the expense of the production site in Gostomel, we wanted to improve the practice of integration with the European market by obtaining labeling for the entire range of products. We planned to invite auditors from the EU.
When were you able to return to your enterprise after the liberation of the Kyiv region from the orcs and what did you see there?
< p>I got to the enterprise in early April, accompanied by specialists from the State Emergency Service, because it was scary to go there myself. The Russians could mine the area. We did not find mines, but the hostilities greatly affected our buildings. As they say, we also “arrived”. The gate was opened from an RPG, artillery shells hit the roof, the windows were shot. Neighboring enterprises suffered even more – some buildings were completely burned down.
Orcs also broke into our territory, knocked out the front door in the main building. The big surprise was that we were not robbed. Before the war, they managed to bring office equipment, televisions, etc. there for a planned move. For some reason they were not taken away.
Perhaps the invaders were frightened off during the fighting. Uninvited guests were recorded by our surveillance cameras, then there was still electricity. We plan to hand over these recordings to the police to record the crimes of the Russian military in addition to the protocols already drawn up by forensic experts.
Terrible footage after the Russian “liberators” in Gostomel and neighboring settlements spread all over the world. As far as I know, you organized help for local residents. What is it about and how did this idea come about?
We went to the local council to find out a number of organizational issues. Near it there was a large crowd of people who remained in Gostomel, who began to return. There, right on the street, they organized a field kitchen, where people cooked food. They had no other conditions to receive adequate nutrition. Among them, the terrorist defense fighters and the police ate like this.
Volunteers brought humanitarian aid to people, distributed food packages. I found out from local volunteers that given the lack of facilities for cooking, it is best to bring freshly prepared meals. I agreed with the staff of the Volunteer Center at the Gostomel village military administration, through which various philanthropists (foundations, businessmen) help Gostomel residents. And since the beginning of April, every Tuesday and Thursday we have been taking 200 ready-made meals there (they cook them for us at a significant discount in a Kiev cafe).
Volunteers in Gostomel distribute aid. They really liked our initiative, because it allows you to quickly feed those who wish. As I said, sales of our main products have begun to gradually resume. And although they are still quite low, we understand that someone is even worse because of the war than we are.
I also want to thank Alexander Vasyuk, who helped organizationally and financially in this initiative. He is known as a lawyer and public figure. A member of the team of Volodymyr Zelensky, who was a candidate for people's deputies from the Servant of the People in 2019 and coordinator of the president's team lawyers.
See below a video about humanitarian aid and damage at Gostomel's enterprises (Ed.):
What is the current situation in Gostomel?
The humanitarian situation there is dire. Even more difficult than it was in the first days after the de-occupation. People began to return en masse, many of their homes were damaged, there were no conditions for organizing a full-fledged life.
Therefore, the volunteers complained that it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to cope with help. Supplies of humanitarian products are barely enough for everyone. People stand in line at the Volunteer Center for groceries, mattresses, etc. Even for potatoes.
The mentioned Alexander Vasyuk also knows about this problem. He has already enlisted an American organization that promised to help in solving humanitarian problems.
Charitable assistance for “Equitestlab” is a new experience and do you plan to develop this activity in the future?< /em>
“Equitestlab” is a relatively young company. We are less than ten years old. We gradually developed as a Ukrainian manufacturer of medical devices on our own money. Therefore, they did not engage in any social projects. It seems that it was not before. But now, taking into account the experience in Gostomel, we have created a charitable organization “CHARITABLE FOUNDATION” EKVI “. During the war, we will try to help through it, depending on our capabilities and the needs of people.
Anna Yurchuk twice a week brings ready-made meals for the Gostomel community
What is the company's policy during the personnel war? Were they forced to carry out staff cuts, reduce salaries?
With the beginning of the war, we had a forced reduction in personnel. Unfortunately, some of the employees left Ukraine. Many, as far as I know, do not plan to return. Someone has already returned. We try to integrate them into the company as much as possible.
By the way, we fulfilled all our obligations to people in February in full. Although there were certain difficulties. Our accountant went to France, so we had to wait for her to get in touch and be able to do her job.
After February, they continued to pay wages in part, although they did not work. Now we are starting production and calling people as needed. That is, if an order appears, we draw up a work plan for the week, employees officially go to work and receive wages.
How much has the business decreased, what is the current income trend?
Sales have dropped four times compared to the period before the full-scale Russian invasion. According to our estimates, up to 70% of small and medium-sized businesses are in a difficult situation. Despite this, we have to bear fixed costs. In particular, for rent, for which, although they gave us a discount, we still need to find sources of income to pay for it. The same marketing department and logistics should also be constantly working.
Since June, the situation with income and customer activity has begun to improve. If this continues, we plan to fully resume production. So far, they launched it for a few weeks, and then again went on a forced “vacation”.
During the period of martial law, the government and parliamentarians introduced the opportunity for businesses to switch to a simplified taxation system. Did this initiative help you?
We did not switch to a simplified taxation procedure – to a single tax at a rate of 2%. We decided that we would be able to pay taxes on general terms – as a VAT payer and taking into account income tax. After all, the budget must be filled, no matter how hard it is. We understand that with the recovery of demand we will be able to recoup our cost overruns. But in this way we will help the state and indirectly our army. Since the beginning of the year, Equitestlab has paid about UAH 1.53 million in various taxes and fees.
Anna Demchenko, Deputy for Production “Ekvitestlab”. A large number of EQUI ELISA kits are already marked with the European CE mark
Have you considered business relocation?
For us, this is an expensive pleasure, due to the specifics of the production of laboratory tests. There are a number of requirements for the room, taking into account the ventilation system, maintaining the temperature regime, up to what the wall covering should be. All this must be carefully adhered to, otherwise the production will not pass the audit for compliance with European safety standards, which I have already mentioned.
Therefore, when we chose new areas in Gostomel, we carefully checked all the starting parameters for further deployment and expansion of the production site there.
Accordingly, we are still focused on opening production in the hero city. Here, the role is played not by where to create it, but when. And this depends on the course of the war and the timing of economic recovery.
How do you manage to keep the company in wartime?
The profile of our company played a role. Despite the fact that demand has fallen four times, there will always be a need for diagnostic tests. As much as we would like to, people continue to get sick. Accordingly, pharmaceutical and medical products are essential goods. As well as food.
Therefore, when the first shock had passed since the beginning of a full-scale war, our regular customers (laboratories, clinics) began to apply for orders. The first to respond were partners from the west of Ukraine, where there were no direct military clashes. They have not significantly reduced their orders compared to the pre-war period.
Are these private clients or purchases by state and municipal organizations? Which tests are more in demand?
Mostly private. At Prozorro, there are almost no tenders for the purchase of diagnostic tests. As far as I understand, there is not enough money. Representatives of hospitals confirm this to us, they say that “there is no money, there is nothing to buy for.”
As I said, the demand for tests for the diagnosis of donated blood now prevails. It is clear that other products are also sold – all kinds of infectious diseases have not gone away. But the truth is, they are bought very little compared to the period before February 24.
At the end of April, the Ministry of Health announced that the situation with the incidence of coronavirus had stabilized. In May, MP Mikhail Radutsky said that Ukraine had not overcome the epidemic. And at the end of May, the Cabinet of Ministers extended the quarantine until August 31. How do you assess the situation with the coronavirus pandemic in Ukraine, which is currently not on the information radar of society?
Unfortunately, Ukraine has not overcome the coronavirus epidemic. It really has become irrelevant for many people because of the war. But the disease has not gone away. Doctors from different regions tell us that there are a lot of outbreaks of coronavirus. People keep getting sick. Just because of the cost of the war in the state and local budgets, there is not enough money even to purchase tests for diagnostics. And hospitals are forced to terminate contracts with us under tenders that we won even before the Russian invasion.
Moreover, if earlier, by order of the Ministry of Health, everyone was required to be tested before a particular operation, now this rule may not always be respected .
It is clear that many people are now not interested in whether they are sick with COVID-19 or not. For them, the main thing is to save the lives of themselves and their families through hostilities.
Anna Yurchuk tells what kind of damage received an enterprise in Gostomel during the Russian occupation
Are you considering diversifying supplies through foreign markets? For example, in June, the European Union removed quotas and duties on all Ukrainian products for a year. Moreover, you certify your ELISA kits for compliance with European safety standards.
We plan to enter both the European market and the Asian markets. This decision was taken by the European Union recently, so “Ekvitestlab” is now assessing the potential in this direction. And although our products are certified according to European technical regulations, European customers are wary of manufacturers from Ukraine.
They assess their risks based on the following: if they pay the Ukrainian supplier, will he fulfill his obligations due to hostilities. After all, Europeans sign mostly contracts designed for long-term and stable relations. And Ukrainian companies are at risk from this point of view.
We are interested in Asian markets. We are currently negotiating with Vietnamese customers. Vietnam has its own legislation in the field of technical regulation of products.
It is necessary to draw up a lot of documents to register the same ELISA kits on their market. We provided the necessary documents, and the Vietnamese regulators launched the procedure for registering our products. But they also say that “we do not stop this procedure, but we do not promote it either, because it is dangerous.” The Vietnamese, like the Europeans, see certain risks of cooperation with us because of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
I believe that the government and parliamentarians should find leverage to help Ukrainian businesses and support the economy. This does not mean that you just need to distribute funds from international aid. Perhaps we need to focus on promoting our interests abroad, developing state programs that will take into account the development priorities of Ukrainian manufacturers. For example, the Export Credit Agency could provide state guarantees that will help us in concluding the same export contracts.