Delfast’s employees in Ukraine are “still sitting in bomb shelters” according to founder and CEO Daniel Tonkopi. “What is crazy is that during the war, our engineers have developed a totally new product. They were tired of sitting in the basement and tired of being afraid, and they wanted to move their energy and inspiration into something new.”
The new bike will be a more affordable model than the firm’s Top 3.0, versions of which are being used by the Ukrainian military to take out Russian tanks.
Details are scant at this point – they haven’t even named the bike – but with a smaller battery and lower top speed, the aim is to make something that more people will be able to use.
All of that seems rather less important than the bike’s genesis, however.
Tonkopi himself is currently based in the US, but he explains that Delfast still has 30 members of staff in Ukraine.
Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: “Starting from February 24th, those were tough weeks, especially the first week, when we didn’t know what was happening and what to do. We had some financial reserves – enough for three months of salary for all our personnel – so we told everybody, ‘You don’t have to worry, you will have your salary no matter what, at least for three months.’”
He continued: “They live in their apartments or houses but when they hear air-raid sirens, they have to go into bomb shelters. It is constant bombing. Every Monday starts with a Zoom call with everyone. We ask them how they are, if they are safe, what’s going on, and then we move on to our usual business issues.”
The firm has also found safer places to live for some employees, including a woman who used to live in Kherson, which is now fully occupied by Russia.
“At one point, Russian police or military forces came to her house,” said Tonkopi. “They asked her to show them her smartphone, her laptop and so on. They found anti-Russian messages and memes in her phone. So they deleted all the information in her phone and said, ‘Okay, now your smartphone will have a new life. And you will come to our police station tomorrow at 11am and you will have new life as well.’
“That was really scary. She didn’t want to have any kind of new life with Russia. So one of our sales managers helped to find her a car in Kherson and to escape. She left to Odessa that night. Odessa is under attack as well. There is no safe place in Ukraine, but it’s relatively safer.”
Expanding on the bikes that have been donated to the military, Tonkopi said: “The military adjusted them. They made an additional rear trunk for holding rocket launchers. They say it works well.
“According to their feedback, our bike is manoeuvrable, it is quiet and it cannot be spotted by heat sensors.
“So they can come to a position, do whatever they need to do, and then immediately leave without being spotted.”
The new bike is intended for the US market, which accounts for around 80 per cent of Delfast’s business. It is due to be unveiled in August. The firm is donating 5% of its sales revenue to the war effort.