Ukraine’s digital transformation is bringing it closer to the EU

Diia City Ukraine

Over the past three years Ukraine, despite economic and political instability, Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion, has achieved a level of digitalisation – in particular of state services – far in advance of many EU members.

Launched in 2020, Diia (an acronym for the Ukrainian Derzhava i Ya, meaning literally, the state and me) is an e-government service that provides a high level of communication between the Ukrainian state and its citizens.

While both the Diia web portal and smartphone app have been recognised with various awards since their launch, in recent months recognition has grown, with many people learning about Diia from Ukrainian refugees.

Indeed, Diia has become a symbol of Ukrainian innovation.

In September, Estonia – widely considered a global leader in e-government and digital public services but which still relies on a web portal to provide most services – announced that it would be collaborating with Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation to create a pilot a national mobile application based on Diia.

While take up of the app was impressive before Russia’s full-scale invasion, the war has provided fresh impetus to Ukraine’s digital transformation. At the beginning of the year, around 13.8 million people were using the app, which can be used to store digital versions of ID documents, to apply for benefits, pay taxes, or to sign any document; by the end of August the number of users had risen to 18 million.

A digital breakthrough in a time of war

With the outbreak of hostilities in February, the pace of Ukraine’s digital transformation skyrocketed.

A powerful IT army was formed, and Ukraine has already received valuable experience in the usage of technology during the war. For example, artificial intelligence is applied to recognise the identities of the dead while Starlink systems are used to restore communications in war-affected areas. The first state crypto fund was established, and the government was able to digitally deliver vital services for citizens in need.

In the first month of the war, the Diia app launched several new services, such as issuing a statement about destroyed housing. That made it possible to record the damage caused by the Russian onslaught and for those affected to receive financial support from the government. The possibility to aid the army with donations has recently appeared and, as a result, tens of millions of hryvnia have made their way to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and territorial defence.

Diia made it easier and quicker for citizens to apply for state social benefits and receive the official status of an internally displaced person. It would take weeks to stand in line for these documents, not to mention that it would be extremely dangerous.

Another useful service is eDocument, a temporary document in the event of losing ID or other means of identification. 

The implementation of the eEnemy chatbot meanwhile plays an important role in gaining data on the displacement of Russian forces.

By virtue of this service, the Ukrainian military was able to eliminate numerous hostile groups. At the end of September, the number of Ukrainians using the chatbot had reached 37,000.

Among other newly-implemented services are Diia.TV and Diia.Radio that provide official and reliable information even in Ukraine’s temporarily occupied regions.

Electronic pension certificates, residence permits, automatic company registration, car sharing, and payment of traffic fines were also launched in the Diia app in the summer. Some English-language documents were also added.

In fact, Ukrainian digital documents are gaining more and more recognition in Europe. A great example of this is Diia.pl, an electronic document issued to Ukrainian citizens who crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border after February 24 that acquired the official status of a digital residence permit, and, in addition, a digital driver’s license and technical passport that can be displayed in the Polish application mObywatel.

Since October 3, it has also been possible to buy military bonds. In the first three days of the service’s operation, Ukrainians purchased military bonds worth 25 million hryvnia. Preferential mortgages, car customs clearance, and car registration through Diia are now under development and soon will become available. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, has also approved a draft law on e-residency, which will make it possible to circumvent corruption in migration services and attract foreign capital and investment to Ukraine.

Concerns about Diia

From the very beginning, Diia faced several issues.

Aside from the low level of technical literacy of the population, the challenge was suspicion towards Diia. Certain members of society saw the service as a possible source of data leaks,  and that it requested too much confidential information.

We should remember however that the data in Diia is taken from already existing paper registries, which may not be safer than Diia. Indeed, while initially the app was a cause of concern, and there were risks, over time the level of protection has increased, with the appearance of new services and users.

It cannot be denied that there are some cyber security problems in Ukraine. And this is one of the reasons why the country is so eager to become part of the EU Single Digital Market. Ukraine wants the data of its citizens to be protected, especially when there is an aggressor nearby which is trying with all its might to undermine Ukraine either from the outside or from within.

Towards the EU

From the very beginning, the digitalisation of Ukraine was developed under the banner of European integration, and towards the idea of the EU Single Digital Market. More developed digital infrastructure, a digital economy, and higher business freedom are among the opportunities of being in the Single Digital Market. And that is the objective of Ukraine.

In 2021, according to research conducted by the Trade+ International Trade Research Centre and the Ukrainian Centre for European Policy, Ukraine’s integration into the EU’s Single Digital Market will lead to a 12.1 per cent increase in Ukraine’s GDP as well as to general positive trends in bilateral trade.

In 2018, Ukraine and the EU agreed on a roadmap for integration into the Single Digital Market, one that is constantly updated. Ukraine has since then been transforming its economy and reforming its IT education, and a lot of projects have been implemented so that Ukrainian legislation complies with EU requirements.

In July 2022, the European Union published an annual report on the implementation of the Association Agreement in Ukraine, encompassing the period from December 1, 2020 – February 24, 2022.

The EU stated that Ukraine had made the most progress in the areas of digital transformation and energy. For instance, laws on electronic communications, the development of telecommunication networks, and on electronic trust services.

What’s more, Ukraine became one of the first countries whose digital Covid-19 certificate was recognised by the EU. The report also states that the digital transformation of Ukraine contributes to more efficient and transparent governance and the fight against corruption.

The Ukraine-EU Association Council on September 5 also praised the digital reforms in Ukraine and emphasised the possibility of the abolition of roaming charges between the EU and Ukraine.

Ukraine will continue moving towards becoming a member of the “digital” EU no matter what. Our digital transformation began only three years ago, and the current state of affairs indicates a huge leap in the development and engagement of citizens with state services.

And the resilience of Ukrainians in the face of Russia’s invasion has only accelerated the entire process of integration, bringing us closer to the EU.

This might be most obvious in the field of digitalisation, but we are converging in other areas too. 

Unlike many news and information platforms, Emerging Europe is free to read, and always will be. There is no paywall here. We are independent, not affiliated with nor representing any political party or business organisation. We want the very best for emerging Europe, nothing more, nothing less. Your support will help us continue to spread the word about this amazing region.

You can contribute here. Thank you.

emerging europe support independent journalism