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Inside Ukraine: Rental operator presses forward amid uncertainty

By Brock Huffstutler

In March 2022, readers of Rental Pulse and Rental Management met Viktor Danko, CEO of Kyiv, Ukraine-based Rider Rent. Danko’s company provides sound, lighting, staging and A/V equipment rentals for live events across Ukraine, and its operations ceased as Russian bombs began to fall on Feb. 24.

Danko and his family were in exile from their home and the business that provides their livelihood when Rental Management’s Brock Huffstutler spoke via Zoom with Danko and his son and Rider Rent crew member, Alex, soon after the outbreak of hostilities. You can view excerpts from that interview here.

Viktor Danko speaks with Rental Management via Zoom on Aug. 11, 2022, from his office in Kyiv, Ukraine. Click here to watch an edited version of the conversation.

Nearly six months later, Huffstutler reconnected with Danko to learn where things stand with his company, his employees, his family and the Ukrainian event rental industry as the war continues. An edited version of that conversation follows.

Rental Management: Viktor, when we last spoke, you and your family were forced to leave Kyiv and were staying in a remote village in the Cherkasy region of central Ukraine. Are you still there today?

Danko: No. When summer came, we came back to Kyiv. It was a great surprise for us, but my daughter’s school opened, and she could go to school when summer started. Right now, I am in my office and I and some of my team work in the office every day.

Rental Management: Back in March, your business had stopped, you were trying to verify your employees’ safety, you were donating your company’s radio sets, generators and stage equipment to the people who were defending your country and were not certain what was going to happen with your business. Can you bring us up to date on where all of that stands today, and have you been able to re-establish any business activity for Rider Rent?

Danko: We try to live a normal life because we understand that we cannot change the situation. We do what we can do, and now we have many employees who are in the army, defending Ukraine. One of our employees, a stage specialist, is on the front line. He fights every day against the Russian occupation.

We at Rider Rent and our friends bought a truck for that employee and gave it to him because he needs this car for the army every day. We try all the time to buy something for our defenders.

Business has totally stopped for our company, but we have service for online events. We have a studio in our storage, and we provide online services for our clients. We have some projects, but it’s not about money. They are projects to support Ukraine. All of our money for our employees and some rent for our storage we take off these projects.

We are trying to locate our business in Europe. Right now, we have storage in Germany and in France, and we have located some of our equipment and employees and in Europe as we try to provide our service in the European market. It’s difficult and we don’t have any European projects, but many people from the Ukraine event business live now in Europe, and they try to do something to support Ukraine.

Viktor Danko in a remote village in central Ukraine, March 2022

It’s a really difficult situation right now for other Ukrainian event companies. In our company, we are active all the time, but most Ukrainian event companies are closed totally. They don’t have storage and they don’t have any employees; many employees have changed businesses — they do another service, not in events, because in the events business, we don’t have any projects now.

Rental Management: What kinds of customers are you working with to produce your online events?

Danko: Some conventions and events to support Ukraine. Some people come and give talks about how they can support Ukraine and they have online conversations with some international companies and governments who try to help Ukraine. All activity and events now are only to find support abroad for Ukraine. We at Rider Rent try to find help for our employees abroad, too. We speak to our European partners and our world partners who have business in events and who have rental businesses, and we ask them to help our defenders and our rental guys who are in the army right now.

Rental Management: You launched a project over the summer called “Rider Production Europe.” Is this the effort that you mentioned about establishing a Rider Rents presence in European countries like Germany and France?

Danko: Yes. Part of our equipment we sent to a French company, Magnum — that is a big rental company in Paris. The second part of our equipment we located in Germany in a very small storage, and we try to provide our service in Europe.

Rental Management: On your Facebook page, you recently thanked some international partners like Live Nation Concerts and its subsidiary company, Music Forward Foundation, for stepping up to help the Ukrainian live events market. Can you tell me about what those organizations have done to help your industry in Ukraine?

Danko: It was a very great surprise for all Ukrainian rental companies. Those guys sent a message for us to send them a list with our employees, and this beautiful organization paid money — $1,000 for every employee for maybe 10 or 15 Ukrainian rental companies.

Rental Management: Have you been able to remain in touch with all your employees to confirm their safety?

Danko: All our guys live right now and that’s OK, it’s enough, and we are happy about this, because in Ukraine right now, we don’t have a safe place. We hear some emergency signal one, two or three times every day.

Rental Management: In March, you said that you planned to export some of your equipment and your team abroad because you didn’t know what would happen through this war and after, and it sounds like you have had a small amount of success there. Is that still what you hope to achieve and are you still actively looking for those opportunities with other partners?

French rental company and Rider Rent partner Magnum receives Ukrainian equipment for use at venues in a show of solidarity.

Danko: Yeah. We have a big dream: We want to open our company in other European countries, and maybe not only European countries. Right now, Alexander, my son, is preparing to study in a Canadian university because Canada supports Ukraine, and they are giving us a chance to have free education and a free visa. I think about the future when my son — he is a rental man, a light man — will go to Canada and start to have an education there. Maybe we will try to open our company in Canada, too. In Ukraine, we don’t know how or when our business can provide our services, but we try to save our company, our storage, our employees, and we try to work without money — but work. We don’t want to stop our business in Ukraine, but we understand that we can’t do anything in this situation.

Rider Rent crew members establish a shot for an event

Rental Management: What is your daily life like in Kyiv? Are you in relative safety at the moment?

Danko: Every day we see some trooper, but in general, it’s a quiet situation in Kyiv. People try to live a normal life, and we try to at Rider Rent. We try to work and have some meetings with our guys every day to support our team. We try to provide our service however we can do it now. Most rental companies are closed right now and if, in Kyiv, some event managers have some activity, they call us first because we are always online on our social media. They see our social media and it motivates them as they try to do something. And when they have some activities, they call us and we try to help them, but like I said earlier, it’s not about money. It’s about supporting Ukraine. But it’s our work activity and it supports us, and it supports our employees.

Rental Management: Viktor, are you and your family committed to remaining in Ukraine, no matter what?

Danko: We hope we can stay in Kyiv and in Ukraine now and in the future. If I need to go abroad to provide my service, I will do it, but after that I will come back to Ukraine. We don’t want to emigrate to another country but, of course, I really want to save my family and if I feel that the situation will not be safe, I will try to relocate my family abroad. But for now, we stay in Kyiv and try to live a normal life and we try to be happy because we don’t have any choice and we understand that if we stop and do nothing, it’s a bad way. A good way is when we try to do something. We try to do something every day for my family, for my company, for our defenders and for Ukraine. We cannot stop; we cannot stop.

Editor’s note: ARA staff members continue to keep in touch with Viktor and his team, and plan to report on significant developments in his story.