Along with all other Ukrainians, the Skylum team has seen their lives drastically changed since the start of the war.
In the photo above, you see the Skylum Team during our Bukovel Photo Camp in the summer of 2021, half a year before the Russian invasion. Since then, the lives of everyone in this photo have been changed forever. Discover the stories of the people behind Luminar.
On February 24, Russia’s full-scale invasion forced Ukrainians to rethink everything and make life-changing decisions on the spot. A lot of people evacuated abroad, a lot stayed in Ukraine, and some joined the armed forces as well as local territorial defense groups to defend our country. Today, we’d like to tell you the real-life stories of some of our Skylum teammates since the beginning of the war, which continues to this day.
But before we do that, there’s some exciting news we’d like to share! Despite everything, we continue to work for you. Little by little, our team is continuing to improve the line of Skylum products. We’re incredibly proud to tell you that this week, we delivered not one but two new updates: Luminar AI 1.5.2 and Luminar Neo 1.0.4.
“Behind every great product is a team of people. I’ve always believed in our team’s strength. Their dedication and willpower to work even from active war zones is inspiring to me, and I want to express my endless gratitude. We’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure our partners and users can tell their visual stories.” — Ivan Kutanin, Skylum CEO
You can check out all the improvements to Luminar AI and Luminar Neo on the What’s New part of the Skylum website. We find solace in our work, and we hope you enjoy the new updates and create amazing photos. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the stories of the people who continue working in a variety of conditions to bring you product updates.
Skylum Team’s stories
Maryna Golovko, Software Engineer
At Skylum, I develop and build Luminar on the Windows platform. During the past month, it’s safe to say I became a pro-level multitasker working under challenging and stressful circumstances. In just four weeks I lived in the Ivano-Frankivsk region and Lviv in Ukraine; Košice , Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Lisbon, Portugal; and now I’m in Portimão , but soon I’ll be moving again.
On the morning of February 24, I woke up to the sound of running water in the bathroom. My husband was walking around the apartment and collecting supplies of water. “It’s the beginning” was all he said. I went to the window in my daughter’s room and saw explosions in the distance. Our air defenses were shooting down Russian missiles. Under the windows, all the roads from the Retroville shopping center were clogged with cars — it was already impossible to drive away. All day I was in a state of shock: I could not pack my things, I could not go shopping and figure out what I needed.
After a sleepless night at my godfather’s place, we headed to western Ukraine without stopping home and without our things. We were lucky that we immediately started calling hotels and were able to find a room, because in the evening almost everything was full. After staying in western Ukraine for a week, I understood that we had to separate the family (men can’t exit the country), and I crossed into Poland with the children. The Poles received us so warmly! They gave us warm clothes for the children and fed us. The Polish customs officer saw we had four children in the car and poured out a handful of sweets for them!
From Poland we went directly to Košice. Those were hard kilometers, even though I really like to drive. But I understood it was necessary to get the children to a safe place. My parents joined me and my two children in Košice. They hadn’t wanted to leave their apartment and spent a week in Kyiv under shelling, but then a shell hit a house a block away and they decided to get on the evacuation train. My parents are 65 years old, and they have never been in good health. But because of this senseless war, they had to take a taxi to the Kyiv railway station from the left bank, spending three hours getting through all the checkpoints, wait for the train for five hours at the station, and get seats in the waiting room only because they didn’t run to the shelter during alarms. Then they couldn’t get on any of the evacuation trains, because only women with children were allowed to board. They finally managed to get into a cold vestibule on the train where they sat for 15 hours to Uzhgorod, where they crossed the border.
From Košice, we decided to move on to Portugal. The trip to the Budapest airport was a long affair, and in the end we ran into a helpful volunteer in Budapest who fed us again and got us set up for the night in the waiting room. But I could no longer sleep, so I worked. In the morning we flew to Lisbon, and a few days later the Russians blew up the Retroville shopping center near my house with missiles. The blasts knocked out all the windows in our apartment, which is in a brand-new building. We moved into our new apartment just a few months ago, having worked on renovations for a year, thinking through everything to the smallest detail. Today, in addition to rain and wind, pigeons have also entered our apartment.
A few snapshots from this month:
The children were in Tatariv (Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine) playing in the snow. We asked them: “What are you doing?” “Building a bunker!” they said. “It will definitely be safe here!”
My daughter cried: “How can we get out of this game?!” (Referring to our new reality)
As we were driving from Kyiv, right above the highway a fighter jet was turning above us. It was scary as hell.
I had to celebrate my son’s third birthday a week later
Valerie Kryshchuk, Influencer Marketing Manager
Normally, I work with influencers all over the world to promote Luminar Neo. I look for new creators to work with us and launch campaigns on YouTube and Instagram. During the war, I am helping Skylumers who are stuck in dangerous regions leave their cities and find a new home.
When the war started on February 24, I was in Kyiv and woke up — along with millions of Ukrainians — to the sound of explosions. I spent hours in a bomb shelter with my husband and our two cats that morning. Then I got a call from my 19-year-old brother who had driven to Kharkiv the night before and was welcomed by Russian missiles at 5am. After spending 12 hours driving from western Ukraine to Kharkiv, he was supposed to spend the night there, but because of the bombing he turned around and spent another 20 hours driving home in heavy traffic along with other people trying to escape. He drove past Kyiv that day and was able to help my family and my husband’s family leave the city. Later that night, my husband and I, his mother, his pregnant sister with her husband, and two cats and two dogs were in Western Ukraine, where we still are today. We are trying to keep working and help Ukraine. My workspace right now is either a sofa in my parent’s house or my grandfather’s little farm in a village 30 kilometers from the city, with hens, roosters, and pigs outside.
Bogdan Vasiliev, Marketing Generalist
I am a marketer of our flagship product - Luminar Neo. I work with product, engineering, support teams, and other marketers to deliver a better product and photo editing experience to our users.
I didn’t leave Kyiv. War covered all of Ukraine, so it’s hard to feel safe in any part of the country. I stayed to defend my hometown. During the first days, I joined the so-called cyber troops. Before Skylum, I worked with different political forces and I am aware of a lot of social technologies. Together with friends, we tried to do the best we could. But Russia's propaganda reached such an absurd level, that it’s hard to beat it on the informational battlefield. Nothing works, not even with my relatives in Russia. My uncle’s dad refused to listen to his son! They are not speaking anymore. But we are not giving up! Don’t believe that Russia's people are not at fault. Every one of them is complacent. They support the war.
Other than that, I feed the animals that remain locked in the apartments. Many people were taken by surprise by the war, and couldn’t care for their animals anymore, their animals had to be rescued. Some owners consciously made the decision to leave their pets in the apartments and ran to other parts of the country. Yes, it’s the ugly face of war. I plan to find a place and organize a shelter for the animals near our zoo patrol organization and take all the animals there. It’s dangerous to travel around the city, but it’s heartbreaking to leave animals to die.
Olga Salkova, Marketing Content Manager
I am now working from a friend’s home in Bucharest, Romania. As a content manager I’m responsible for production of all types of marketing materials: emails, banners, videos etc. In addition to my regular tasks, I have been helping colleagues and their relatives find transportation to leave Ukraine and homes to stay in the country and abroad. While I’m physically safe, I am mentally challenged because it’s impossible to feel sane while your homeland is at war.
When the war started, my husband and I were on vacation in Sri Lanka. Our flight back was canceled, but we decided to fly closer to home anyway. We managed to do it with a connection in the UAE and then to Bucharest. We decided to leave Sri Lanka despite the overall good conditions because it was impossible for us to live a regular life on an exotic island. It was very hard the first few days, when I constantly checked my sister’s location while she and our mother were crossing the Ukraine–Moldova border. There were many Russians in Sri Lanka who continued to have a great time. Some of them were supporting their country’s war, but many of them just didn’t care. We managed not to start a fight only because we needed to be there for our families. My father, my husband’s parents, and our cat are still in Kyiv. As are many of our close friends. I just want this nightmare to be over and to go home.
Yasia Nikonova, Senior Affiliate Manager
On the morning of the 24th, I woke up to my mother’s call: “Yasia, the war has started.” My husband and I quickly gathered our things, took our cat Jackie, and took off for a small town 50 kilometers from Kyiv to join our relatives. We hoped that being away from a big city would help us avoid direct military attacks. But already on the second day we realized that we were wrong.
Starting from the second day of the war, we saw the enemies’ equipment riding right outside our house: armored personnel carriers, tanks, trucks. After a few days, the active military attacks started — we could hear explosions, gunshots, Grad rockets… I remember hearing the sound of the air raid siren for the first time. It was so scary. I called my parents to tell them that I loved them. I had a feeling that I would never see them again.
On the fifth day of the war, the power went out, and with it went the internet and the mobile connection. These were the hardest days. We couldn’t reach our loved ones and tell them we were alive. I remember going with my husband to the bell tower of a local church, as it was the tallest place in town. There was a signal there and we managed to send out a message to our relatives and friends that we were okay. For me, it was the happiest moment since the start of the war.
Then, the situation started to get worse. Russian soldiers occupied our town, took down the Ukrainian flag, and started to go around town shooting civilians! Our neighbor was shot to death by a machine gun while he was just standing in the courtyard of his own house. This was the breaking point for us. My husband and I decided that we had to do everything we could to leave this hell. The next morning, after the enemies’ forces passed by, we got into our car and left. We understood how risky it was — we didn’t know what was happening around town and which roads were safe because we hadn’t had an internet or mobile connection for five days. Thankfully, we were lucky. Literally ten minutes after our departure, we saw a Ukrainian checkpoint. The guys at the checkpoint suggested which road was the safest. We drove to Lviv in one go, covering 500 kilometers, and a few days later we went to Kremenets.
My heart is broken. My parents are still in Kyiv. All my relatives and friends are scattered throughout the country and abroad. I really look forward to the end of the war so I can see and hug everyone.
Juliy Dzhereleyko, Designer
I’ve been working at Skylum for two years and about nine months. Before the war, I worked as a designer, created all sorts of visuals and in my spare time painted pictures, and made music. Now I work from home, but I don’t paint anymore. Also, I have additional work with a volunteer battalion. I am now in Ivano Frankivsk, in western Ukraine. It’s calm here. There are a lot of people, and establishments are open until 8pm. I went from Kyiv by train to Lviv on February 26, then came here. My friends and I enrolled in the volunteer battalion of the Carpathian defense headquarters. We work only in the city of Ivano Frankivsk. We train in all disciplines. Sometimes we patrol with the police at checkpoints, near the regional state administration and the railway station. It’s challenging and I would never expect to do something like this in my life, but I’m happy that I can help my country and protect the civilians.
Taras Zemlyankin, Head of QA
I am the Head of QA at Skylum, which means I'm responsible for organizing all kinds of product tests and finding the best approach for implementing them. I also set up all sorts of processes to prevent critical errors from getting into our applications. We do all this thanks to the efforts of our Quality Assurance team, which consists of ten people who love our products very much and often spend their free time making these products better and adding value for our users.
Nowadays, while working I constantly have the sounds of four children in the background: squeaking, screaming, arguing, crying, and incessantly asking questions. Plus, three of those children do not understand the phrase “Dad is working, don’t interfere.” Under such conditions, managerial skills are tested, and if there is enough patience, it becomes a harsh but effective school for “polishing” organizational, people management, and conflict resolution skills along with the ability to listen and speak in time, achieving win-win goals. But despite these learning opportunities, I really miss the office, where I can concentrate 100% and devote myself to work.
Before the war, I lived near Irpin with my wife and four children. On the first day of the war, we did not understand what was happening. I didn’t believe it. But the reaction of the children to the explosions brought me back to reality. It was my wife who made me pack my things, put them in the car, and drive in the direction of the Chernivtsi region, where our relatives live. I thought that the idea of leaving at night to get there by morning was good, since our Hyundai Accent sedan is not suitable for so many people. If you drive at night while the children are sleeping, you can pull such a move. But it turned out that the trip to Chernivtsi stretched for two and a half days, with mega traffic jams, hours of coffee, and just standing. When you do it alone, it’s not so scary. But with four children, of which three are five or younger, making such a trip is a real test in which you fight not to go crazy. And those night hours when the children are sleeping seem like a rest, even though you yourself are trying not to fall asleep and still drive at least a little.
We left on Thursday evening, and we got to Chernivtsi on Sunday morning. There we had a break of several days, after which we drove another 1500 kilometers to the border with Romania, waited 10 hours at the Ukraine–Romania border, waited four hours at the Romania–Hungary border, and eventually ended up in Gdansk, Poland. We had no understanding of what the “right” thing to do was in such a situation. Keeping the children safe was our only goal. Now we are in Gdansk, and Skylum has helped us rent an apartment here. There are no explosions, no Russian fascists, looters, and rapists. Physically, we’re safe. But inside of us is emptiness. And a wild desire to return home.
These are just a few stories from our team. Every Ukrainian has their own story about how the war has touched their lives. Thank you for reading ours. Also, thank you for your constant kind words of support and donations. Stand with Ukraine!
There are more heartbreaking real life stories from our Skylum teammates. If you’d like to request access to them and share about what’s happening in Ukraine, please reach out to our press contact Anna Koval, Head of Communications, via [email protected]