Owner of the largest Russian search engine leaves Ukraine

Piotr Andrusieczko

Yandex decided to close down its offices in Kiev and Odessa after the Security Service of Ukraine searched the facilities of the Ukrainian branches of the company on 29th May.

Yandex, owner of the largest Russian search engine, along with other Russian IT companies, was added to the extended list of Russian companies subjected to sanctions. On 16th of May Petro Poroszenko, President of Ukraine, signed a relevant decree. A day later the access to websites belonging to Yandex and Russian social portals -Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte -was blocked by Ukrainian mobile network operators. During the following days cable internet operators trod in the footsteps of mobile network operators and also denied the access.

Secretary of National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turczynow emphasized that the decision to block the Russian websites was related to security matters. The Russian companies used the websites to collect information about the Ukrainian citizens and they were spreading anti-Ukrainian propaganda on social portals.
The offices of Yandex located in Kiev and Odessa were entered by officers of SSU on the charge of illegal gathering of personal data of the citizens of Ukraine by the staff members of the Russian company. According to SSU the data concerned the exercised occupation, place of abode, interests, entertainment, sources and amount of income, telephone numbers and email addresses as well as detailed information published on the social portals. Yandex was supposed to pass that information on to Russia.

Yandex responded to the charge by claiming that neither its staff nor the management of the Ukrainian branch had access to personal data of users.

“Protection of personal data of users from all countries where our websites are available is our top priority. That data -for safety reasons -is anonymous and impersonal. There are strict legal procedures allowing official bodies to request from the company access to that data, yet that requires a prior decision of the court and the decision itself must be deemed convincing by the company. In this case Yandex is accused of passing on data which did not take place” -we read in the official statement issued by the company.

On 1st June Yandex decided to close its offices in Kiev and Odessa: -Yandex Company was put on the list of companies under sanctions and consequently it cannot conduct its business activity on the territory of Ukraine. All our accounts were blocked and we cannot pay remuneration to our staff – said the press spokesman for Yandex Oczir Mandzykov.

At the same time the company offered to employ its Ukrainian staff in branches located in other countries.

The long-term consequences for Yandex and the whole IT market in Ukraine are yet to be seen. On the day the Ukrainian sanctions entered into force Yandex’s actions lost 1.4 billion dollars in value.

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