Ukraine Pushes Government Digitization As War Rages
New services help citizens access services, ID Russian war criminals, and reassure foreign supporters.
Even as rolling blackouts darken parts of wartorn Ukraine, Kyiv is working to digitize its government operations, to help citizens access services, to reassure international supporters about aid donations, and to better fight off invading Russian forces, Ukraine’s top digital innovation official said Friday.
“We have not stopped in the construction of the digital state,” said Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister for digital innovation.
Fedorov, who spoke at an Atlantic Council event, was in the United States to meet representatives from Google and other companies.
That followed Federov’s Thursday announcement that Amazon had donated items and services worth $75 million to Ukraine, and vowed to continue supplying the services through 2023.
“At the start of the full-scale war, Amazon AWS was one of the first to help hold the country's digital infrastructure,” he wrote on Telegram. “The company provided services worth millions of dollars for the storage of about 100 state registers. This allowed registries to work even during Russian shelling and emergency power outages, and Ukrainians to receive government services online.”
And that followed Microsoft’s Nov. 3 announcement that it would donate cloud-computing services worth roughly $100 million though next year, which company president Brad Smith said would bring its total wartime support for Ukraine to $400 million.
The donated services have helped the Ukrainian government to continue to function during the invasion, and to keep important data out of Russia’s crosshairs.
Useful as well have been Starlink satellite-communications terminals donated by SpaceX. Earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his company had donated $80 million in services and would end the year having donated a total of $100 million. Still, SpaceX bills Ukranians for the service, and USAID began subsidizing the costs in April. In October, Musk told Pentagon officials that he would cut back on the company’s donations (but reversed course later); in November, Starlink’s prices nearly doubled.
“Elon Musk's Starlink is very popular, but we also use other solutions of satellite communication,” said Fedorov.
Ukraine has used the digital resources to help citizens affected by the fighting.
“We launched social payments for people who are located in, near the war zone,” Federov said. “A war zone moves into a certain territory and we begin to pay people monies to support them.”
The services also enable citizens to better support the war effort. Ukrainians can upload photos of Russian soldiers who steal or commit war crimes, allowing the Ukrainian government to identify them with facial recognition, he said.
In all, Ukrainians can access more than 70 governmentservices, such as paying taxes, requesting assistance, or reporting Russian damage to property, using an app and website called DIIA.
The app is also aimed at luring digital nomads to Ukraine. Somewhat similar to the Estonian e-residency program, DIIA allows people outside of the country to register a limited liability company within the country.
“The service has already been used by 370,000 private entrepreneurs and more than 4,500 companies,” according to the DIIA website.
All of the digitization may also help assuage concerns among Ukraine’s international lenders and supporters about whether all the arms and aid they are sending is being put to its intended use. Ukraine has launched a digital procurement system called ProZorro to increase transparency so that allies can answer questions from their constituents on how Ukraine spends money.
“When our economy is supported only by international assistance, European, American banks and institutions, we need to be transparent because it'll be positive for getting further assistance down the road,” Fedorov said.
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