International SOS “The focus of French companies is still on Ukraine, but it has already shifted to Russia,” says Xavier Carn, Vice President Security EMEA at International SOS.

After a week of war, have all business travelers and expatriates left Ukraine?

Xavier Carn – Most companies have exfiltrated or advised their employees to leave Ukraine. At International SOS

, we advised our members to leave the country two weeks ago. Companies that have a strong duty to protect their employees are also trying to help their Ukrainian employees who are trying to reach extraction points on the country’s borders. It is very complicated, it is done in drops. We are in a position, with a fairly extensive network of service providers, to help a number of companies who want us to provide logistical assistance, particularly to small groups of Ukrainian employees and their families who are trying to reach these points on the border. We are also working in the area of psychological support, because one can imagine the terrible impact of this situation. There is also a logistical component to know what to do once they arrive at the border. It’s about identifying the most appropriate crossing points, and getting an idea of how complex the wait is. At some points, just getting through immigration and customs can take 20 hours.

How did you intervene in the days leading up to the crisis, and right up to the closure of the air links?

Xavier Carn – Our business is based on quality information. It is therefore a question of having assistance platforms in which our analysts study the dynamics, the triggering effects that can lead to a worsening of the situation. So we have been monitoring the situation for months. And when the risk of open conflict approached, we deployed incident management teams in Kiev and throughout the country to identify evacuation routes and logistical and hotel capacities to gather evacuees. It was also to advise on the signals to watch out for in deciding whether or not to leave, before airspace was closed, and travel in the country became very complex. This is one of the characteristics of International SOS: of course we have 24/7 assistance centers everywhere, but we rely on a ” boots on the ground ” logic: teams that will reconnoiter the ground on the spot, to be able to inform our members who still have teams on the ground, including the ones who are not.

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including premises, to anticipate the situation, to monitor it continuously, and to have access to logistical, medical and safety resources. It is very complex, especially since with the conscription our service providers are themselves affected since the men of age to bear arms are mobilized. Vehicles are sometimes requisitioned. So it’s almost a “manual” job, it’s “hand sewn” for each situation

French companies are still concerned about Ukraine, but their focus has already shifted to Russia

Have you also seen requests multiply in Russia, to assist business travelers who would be blocked, or even threatened on the spot?

Xavier Carn – Yes, we are assisting many members in relation to the situation in Russia. More than a week ago, before the Quai d’Orsay recommended that organizations repatriate non-essential employees present in Russia, we had already raised our concern about the possibility of leaving Russia. We also pointed out the risk that the economic or media footprint of a particular company may make it a potential target for retaliatory measures. Companies can be identified as coming from NATO members. So we have to be careful. We have had various cases of information and assistance in Russia, notably on the decision to reduce the teams on site, and to organize transfers to airports, to organize air routing. There are still ways out of Russia via the Middle East and Turkey. It is possible to enter Europe by indirect flights, even if it is long and complex. French companies are still concerned about Ukraine, but their focus has already shifted to Russia, especially since this is a country where France has a very large economic footprint.

Has it also moved to the other countries bordering Ukraine? Do you advise against travel in this area?

Xavier Carn – No, because there was no trigger. We know that there are countries from which an evacuation would be complex, such as Moldova. In other countries, such as Romania, Hungary and Poland, the airspace is open and we can continue to operate there, even if, of course, travel there must be limited to essential reasons. We are constantly monitoring the situation. Companies ask us to help them develop what we call “escalation matrices”, i.e. an analysis grid that will enable a company to determine the incidents, situations, and developments that should lead it to change its posture in terms of business continuity, employee safety, and preparation for a crisis or even the departure of employees. Companies have been shocked, as we all have been, by the violence and speed of this crisis, and are therefore asking questions in neighboring countries, especially with the no-fly zone. The context is very anxiety-provoking.

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<img src=”” alt=”Xavier Carn” width=”700″ height=”500″ />Xavier Carn, Vice President Security EMEA, International SOS

Did this rapid development of the crisis also surprise security specialists like International SOS? Or did you advise against travel to Ukraine in advance, and on what basis?

Xavier Carn – We had done so quite extensively before the beginning of the Russian offensive. We don’t have a crystal ball, and this is not necessarily linked to our knowledge of the schemes of the belligerent power, but we were aware of the travel restrictions that were emerging and we knew that it would be more complicated. This is often one of the triggers: our knowledge that the ability to evacuate by conventional means, commercial flights, trains, private cars will be restricted. In this case, we anticipate, because there is nothing worse than having your employees stranded in a country whose airspace or borders are closed. This is the scenario we want to avoid at all costs. Our teams work day and night to respond to the need of companies for information on the evolution of the situation and what it means for their employees. In other words, it is a matter of helping a HR manager, an international mobility manager, a CEO, when they enter the crisis room, with the right information


The dams have burst: companies are also taking local employees into account

Faced with this crisis, have French companies managed the duty of care issue well?

Xavier Carn – To be in contact with security directors, medical directors and CEOs, the duty of care is on everyone’s lips, but also in their actions. It goes far beyond the traditional impact zone, which is limited to business travelers and expatriates. The dikes have broken: companies are also taking local employees into account. This leads us into very complex discussions. For example, how many people should be included in the notion of extended family? On a human level, I personally find that companies are really focused on the duty to protect their teams and spend a considerable amount of time looking for solutions, even in extremely deteriorated circumstances.

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How do you see the future of travel in Eastern Europe?

Xavier Carn – Very complicated, of course… Especially since the stigma of the Malaysian Airlines flight is still in everyone’s mind. The airlines are very concerned. We also have aviation security analysts who spend their time observing the air corridors and their security. This is going to have a major impact, with all the bypasses that need to be put in place for essential travel in Russia or in the region… It’s incredibly complex, and it’s going to last.

What are your recommendations for business trips to the countries of the region?

Xavier Carn – First and foremost, it is important to get as much information as possible. The crisis center of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doing a remarkable job, with

companies like ours provide a maximum of very updated and accurate information. Things change very quickly. It is also important to choose service providers capable of assisting the business traveler on the ground, and not just online. But more than ever, let’s stress the importance of preparation and advice before the trip.