The Ukraine tech sector is showing incredible resilience in the face of the Russian invasion. Director of Tech Ukraine Nataly Veremeeva explains how individuals are harnessing this tech knowhow to fight back.
Tell us about Tech Ukraine. What is it and when was it founded?
Tech Ukraine is an NGO whose objective is to develop the Tech Ukraine ecosystem. It started as a result of the export strategy for the Ukraine IT sector established by the ministry for economic development and trade. We did this in 2018-19 with support from the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH), the German government fund. We gathered ideas from stakeholders about what was missing and what needs to be done and about 150 stakeholders joined. Ruben Nieuwenhuis, the ecosystem builder and architect from the Netherlands, who developed Startup Amsterdam and the Techleap.nl platform, helped us to shape 12 initiatives to help the ecosystem grow. We adopted three: the portal techukraine.org, our startup in residence initiative and internationalisation readiness programmes.
On the news we see people leaving Ukraine en masse. How is the tech sector coping with the current situation?
Some might leave but the majority are staying. The tech sector plays an important role for Ukraine. Losing land is painful, we don’t want this. But now we’ve a clear understanding that we need to defend our right to exist. IT companies, being among the forward thinkers of our society, took this challenge and understood it better than anybody else. Another thing about IT is that it is easier to move people with computers and continue working, than if you’ve a plant or factory being bombed. Companies found a way to continue working for several reasons: businesses still need to be up and running. And secondly, we are still supporting our economy. It is very important to support the economy and keep it running. We have support from western countries but we do need to stand on our own feet, and for this reason, the IT sector should not be underestimated.
And how are tech founders and workers invested in the war effort?
There are IT specialists who in their free time volunteer in the information and cyber war. We have up to 300,000 volunteers as an IT army, managed by the digital transformation ministry, doing cyber attacks. And around 180,000 volunteers in the internet army that is working on information campaigns, breaking through to the Russians, breaking down their propaganda and delivering our message to the rest of the world. A lot of people are working, and this is not a military or political war but a war of society, for its independence. IT and tech play a very important role in this.
To what extent has the war impacted business for your members?
The amount of business is still stable, we’re not losing a lot of clients, because we had contingency plans in place. Many companies were able to persuade them they could deliver and they did. There were concerns about the internet. Thanks to Elon Musk and his Starlink internet service, companies were equipped with an extra channel in case they lost connection. For some clients there is volatility, but it’s not critical. I think that the most-affected were startups, because it is more difficult to attract investment. They will get help through our grant programmes. But this is the area that probably needs the most support at the moment. A lot of resources are going into fighting the war instead of developing businesses.
How do you see the sector recovery in future?
Its importance will grow in the next 20 years because we really need to quickly recover from this hit. IT could be one of the ways out of this tense situation. Our sector is growing year by year. We’ve around 250,000 IT professionals in the sector with the objective to increase that number to 450,000 by 2025. Our ministry of digital transformation established that objective before the war. We will see how it unfolds. We’ve more than 180 universities with tech faculties. The basis is massive and we plan to grow this further. Our IT companies have a high awareness of their importance and love for our country. The approach of businesses is to do all they can to help.
What can external businesses and consumers do to support the Ukraine tech ecosystem?
There could be several layers: giving more business to Ukrainian companies, we appreciate that; buying Ukrainian tech products. We have an abundance and that is helpful; searching for Ukrainian startups and supporting them with investments, because Ukrainian startups get a lot of interest and we receive requests to do scouting for this or that particular area. Our startup fund gave grants for seed and pre-seed funding that helped develop the next wave of startups. So, the situation with the startups is quite good. But I believe they would need investment.
For more information on how to support the Ukrainian tech ecosystem, contact Tech Ukraine.
For more general ways to support Ukraine, visit the foreign affairs site war.ukraine.ua
Interview courtesy of our content partner Silicon Luxemburg