I wish we could talk about butterflies. I wish we could gossip about Big Tech and follow their latest courtroom drama. However, I also wished I could go skiing during the 2020/2021 season, and it didn’t happen.
Just as we learned to live with the pandemic and cautiously started returning to our first world problems, a full-scale war began at our European doorstep.
Overnight, the pandemic became a thing of the past and the digital space an actual battlefield.
All is fair in love and special military operations
Every war in history has been accompanied by propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, tactical placement of fake news to discredit the enemy and encourage your troops. However, the channels available today are taking this to a global scale, making us all not only spectators but also active participants.
The tools we use for work, communication, and fun are now a window through which we see the damage and actual human suffering. It gives this conflict another dimension, and the moves made in the digital sphere directly impact the situation on the ground.
Some are calling this the first social media war. That is not entirely true, but never before did technology play such a major role in an armed conflict. It’s not only cyber warfare. Companies are extending relief to Ukrainian workers, platforms are blocking Russian propaganda, governments are imposing sanctions, donations are given in cryptocurrencies, Big Tech is pulling unprecedented moves, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Faced with one of the most powerful military forces in the world, Ukraine took to the Internet and shouted for help. And in a turn of events as unprecedented as the European Union’s instant agreement on sanctioning Russia, the Internet responded unanimously.
Much of the credit goes to Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor-turned-president whose story you already know. Dressed in plain clothes, Ukraine’s president doesn’t miss a day addressing his nation and a global audience via video. His speeches, already stuff of legends, literally turned the tide on how Europe and the world handle this crisis.
Do you remember the Starlink terminals story? There’s also a sequel. The man behind it is Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation, 31-year-old Mykhailo Fedorov. Previously focused on making all Ukrainian state services available on a smartphone, Fedorov is now leading Ukraine’s digital resilience from an underground bunker in Kyiv.
He personally wrote to chief executives of American tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, Sony, and Oracle, urging them to stop their operations in Russia and use their influence to aid Ukraine’s cause. He’s also put together a volunteer “IT Army” to launch cyberattacks against Russia.
The group, managed through a Telegram channel, now has more than 300.000 subscribers who are urged to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS attacks) against Russian and Belarusian business corporations, banks, and state web portals. Allegedly, more than half of the IT Army’s targeted sites have faced partial or total outages in Russia.
We will fight in the forests, in the fields, and on the Internet
The Ukrainian tech community is a powerful one. Pre-invasion data said that their IT sector was growing five times (25%) faster than the global average (4-6%) and counted 5,000 tech companies with 250,000 developers.
Just a couple of weeks before speaking before the European Parliament urging for help for his country, president Zelensky spoke at a tech summit and announced his expectations that the technology share of Ukraine’s GDP would grow from 4% to 10% by 2025, up to $16.5 billion.
Just weeks ago, the country was considered a hotbed for startup activity, especially in the field of deep tech and artificial intelligence. It was probably well on its way to becoming the largest tech hub in Europe, having produced several tech unicorns, including the DevOps platform GitLab and writing assistant company Grammarly. In fact, Grammarly had recently jumped to the category of decacorns with an estimated value of $13 billion. Naturally, it has extended support to Ukraine, donating all its net revenue earned from Russia and Belarus since 2014 and thus creating a $5 million fund.
More examples of support from Ukraine-based companies and startups include Adwisely, which launched a website explaining how to donate to the Ukrainian army, the e-governance app Diia enabling Ukrainians to donate government grants for Covid-19 vaccinations to the military instead, the fintech Monobank that has raised up to 50 million UAH ($1,7 million) from people from 94 countries. Further effort is made by a Ukrainian product community supplying the essential equipment to soldiers in hot spots through the website KOLO. There is simply not enough space to list all the initiatives for support in this newsletter.
Speaking of support, international companies are taking care of their Ukrainian employees. Having paused operations in the country, Uber offered to relocate its Kyiv employees and their families to other parts of Ukraine or abroad. Lyft is providing financial support to those wishing to leave temporarily. And the chief executive of JustAnswer, a website where people can quiz doctors, lawyers, mechanics, and other professionals, which has 200 Ukrainian employees, is continuing to pay 50% of their salaries if they sign up to fight for Ukraine, as well as guaranteeing their employment when they return.
There is always something you can (not) do
If there ever was an example of using digital tools for good, this is it. The response from the tech community has been monumental. However, no one dares ask what will remain of Ukraine’s promising business environment at the end of this increasingly devastating war.
As stated above, actions taken in the digital space significantly impact the situation on the ground. However, it is not always about what we do, but also what we choose not to do.
Infinum has received multiple inquiries from companies working with Ukrainian tech professionals over the past two weeks. Scared for the future of their projects, many are looking to move their business elsewhere. It is usually great when more work comes knocking at our door, but not under these circumstances.
Therefore, we have been asking those companies to reconsider. The Ukrainian tech community needs work now more than ever before, not only for obvious financial reasons, but to stay sane, have purpose, and remain connected with the world.
Clutch has been doing the same. They have been removing the content highlighting agencies based in Russia and Belarus, instead promoting Ukrainian agencies.
Everyone is doing their part.
To quote one of our Ukrainian readers, next time you think there’s nothing you can do to help Ukraine (not even flagging propaganda on Youtube?), think of the woman who knocked down a drone by throwing a tomato jar on it from her window.
Our windows may be digital, but our actions reach further than we might think.