The head of the Russian internet giant Yandex has left Russia and relocated to Israel, people with knowledge of her whereabouts confirmed to Haaretz.
Media reports in Russia had suggested that Elena Bunina had fled the country in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and the wave of sanctions that the offensive triggered.
It was announced Sunday that Bunina was stepping down early from her role as CEO of Yandex – a massive tech company often referred to as “Russia’s Google.” According to two sources, Bunina, who is Jewish, is currently in Israel and is not planning to return to Russia.
One source said the CEO has been in Israel for a month, while the second source said that despite rumors to the contrary, Bunina is not in Israel in an official capacity and is not working from the Russian firm’s local offices.
In response to a question from Haaretz at the start of the week, a spokeswoman for Yandex Israel refused to confirm Bunina’s location, saying only that she “is stepping down from her positions as CEO and HR director at Yandex. Artem Savinovsky has been appointed acting CEO of Yandex in Russia.”
Russian billionaire Arkady Volozh is the overall head of Yandex, while Bunina was serving as head of its principal operating subsidiary, Yandex LLC.
Volozh, who founded Yandex, moved to Israel in 2019 and spends part of the year in the country.
Recent reports in the Russian media said that Savinovsky will assume Bunina’s role at Yandex LLC. Bunina had held the position since 2017 and also served as the firm’s global VP for human resources, until being replaced by Tigran Khudaverdyan. However, Khudaverdyan was hit by European Union and U.K. sanctions recently, and the transition of power from Bunina to Savinovsky, and then to Khudaverdyan, was put on hold. Yandex is not currently facing any sanctions.
Bunina, it seems, will nominally still hold her official role until at least April 15, though one of the sources says she is no longer communicating with the company’s offices in Moscow.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Bunina published a post on Facebook saying she was against “blood and war.” The post prompted both praise and criticism, with some urging her to speak out against the war while others called her out.
On Sunday, an independent Russian media outlet called The Bell, which focuses on high-tech and startups, posted a screen capture of a message Bunina allegedly posted on an internal company forum. According to the post, whose veracity could not be verified, Bunina wrote: “I will not return: I cannot work in a country that is at war with its neighbors.”
Some took issue with her choice of wording, pointing out that Israel is in a perpetual state of conflict with some neighboring states.
According to The Bell, Bunina’s post said she had arrived in Israel in February, after the war broke out while she was vacationing in Cyprus. In the post, she wrote that she was working from the Russian firm’s Israeli offices.
Others claimed she has now become VP for HR for Yandex Israel. However, sources stress that her presence in Israel is in a personal capacity and she intends to sever ties with the firm.
Russian firms and officials have faced a wave of sanctions from the United States, the EU and Britain since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Though Yandex has not been sanctioned, Haaretz reported shortly after the start of the war that it was trying to relocate some 800 workers from Russia to Israel. The apparent reason was fear of being slapped with sanctions.
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Israeli high-tech firms employed some 15,000 Ukrainians before the war erupted, almost all of them working remotely from Ukraine where labor costs for tech workers are much lower than in Israel. A number of prominent Israel firms have already cut all operations in Russia.