A digital marketing entrepreneur before becoming Ukraine’s youngest ever minister, Mykhailo Fedorov has made technology a key part of the country’s fight against Russia’s invasion, and the cornerstone of its future. On March 31, he was named Emerging Europe’s Public Figure of the Year.
Two days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted at billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.
“While your rockets successfully land from space,” Fedorov wrote, “Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations.”
Two days after Fedorov’s tweet, Musk gave his reply: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine.”
Ukraine has since received some 42,000 Starlink terminals: small, portable satellite dishes that provide internet connectivity to Ukrainian soldiers and civilians alike.
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For many people outside of Ukraine, the brief exchange with Musk was the first time that they had heard of Fedorov, an entrepreneur who has led the ministry since its creation in 2019.
Still just 32 and Ukraine’s youngest ever minister, on March 21 he saw his remit expanded. Now Vice Prime Minister for Innovations, Development of Education, Science and Technologies as well as Minister of Digital Transformation it was a sign that he – and technology – will play a key role in Ukraine’s reconstruction once the war with Russia is won.
“Innovation is Ukraine’s future,” Fedorov said on his new appointment, adding, “we want to build a country of entrepreneurs.”
State in a smartphone
While Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is the undoubted face of the country’s battle to restore its territorial integrity and secure freedom for its people, Fedorov has over the past year become the face of its future.
A constant presence at international forums, from Davos to Web Summit, Fedorov has used his skills as a digital marketing entrepreneur (skills which helped Zelensky win Ukraine’s 2019 presidential election) to turn digital tools into weapons, creating an IT army to fight against Russia’s digital intrusions. He has also helped Ukraine develop – in a remarkably short space of time – a sophisticated military tech sector.
Nevertheless, he has never lost sight of his primary goals before the war: to create a “state in a smartphone”, where 100 per cent of government services would be offered online; and to make Ukraine a global technology hub.
Earlier in March Fedorov was instrumental in convincing Microsoft to sign a 10-year agreement to support the Ukrainian software development team behind Boosteroid, the world’s largest independent cloud gaming provider.
Boosteroid has operated since 2017 and has its research and development operations in Ukraine, based mostly in Kyiv and Kharkiv. Despite having two offices in Kharkiv damaged by Russian missile attacks, the company has continued to innovate and grow during the past 13 months of war.
“Microsoft partnering with Boosteroid is welcome news and further evidence of the company’s ongoing support for Ukraine,” said Fedorov when the deal was announced. “Boosteroid’s Ukrainian dev team has built a world-class streaming platform under the most challenging circumstances and demonstrates the ingenuity and creativity of our citizens and local game developers.”
Ukraine’s resilience in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion has been considerably boosted by the digital tools Fedorov managed to put in place before the war began.
Its Diia smartphone application (which in Ukrainian means “action”), launched in 2020, acts as a one-stop shop for public services and a wallet for digital versions of official documents: digital passports and driving licences stored in the app have the same legal status as their paper originals.
According to the Ministry of Digital Transformation, almost 19 million people – around half of the country’s adult population – now use the app.
Importantly – in the context of the Russian invasion and the large numbers of internally displaced people – Ukrainians can use the app to change their registered address, apply for and receive social support and access aid and other crucial services. A simplified war-time digital ID has also been created, available to all Diia users and recognised by local law enforcement.
War or not, Fedorov still aims to have 100 of all government services available on Diia by 2024. The app has also caught the interest of other countries. In January, it was revealed that the world’s most digital state – Estonia – would be launching a pilot of an app totally based on Diia’s code.
“One of the most digital countries in the world is adopting Ukrainian technologies and experience,” said Fedorov. “With a unified national mobile platform, Estonia will be able to save on development costs in the future.” Ukraine’s collaboration with Estonia will be the first of many, as other countries tap into its govtech expertise.
A country of entrepreneurs
But Diia is more than an app: it is an entire ecosystem, designed to make Ukraine Europe’s largest IT hub. Diia.City is a key part of that ecosystem, launched just two weeks before the war began. This unique tax and legal space for IT businesses provides firms with one of the best tax systems in Europe, flexible forms of cooperation with specialists, venture capital common legal tools, and tax incentives for investments.
On March 22, Fedorov opened a new Diia.Business centre in Lutsk: the 13th to open since the war began. The centres – which Fedorov wants to see in every Ukrainian town with a population of more than 50,000 – offer Ukrainian entrepreneurs free consultations and other assistance to develop their business ideas.
Importantly, Fedorov understands that the Ukrainian government’s reach must not extend too far. “Our task is to create the conditions that will allow the IT market to develop,” he said in February. Dirigisme his approach is not.
“We want our kids to know how to learn, how to analyse information, to take decisions, to look for and to discover new solutions,” he says.
“We want kids to launch their first products while they are still in the classroom, so that they are ready for the digital economy, that’s how we can create a country of entrepreneurs.”
Named Emerging Europe’s Public Figure of Year on March 31, Fedorov told us that, “For over a year Ukraine has been fighting with a cruel aggressor in the largest war since World War II. It is also the most technologically advanced war in human history. The newest technologies have become the basis for our resilience and one of our key advantages on the battlefield.
“I believe that tech will also be the basis for Ukraine’s recovery. My team and I are doing everything possible to make it happen. We are grateful for the recognition of our efforts; ongoing support matters as we are still fighting for the future.”
Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation
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