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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

How the War Makes Ukraine Leap Forward in Digitalisation

Written by: Darina Dvornichenko

This article was written by Darina Dvornichenko, a ReThink.CEE fellow at the German Marhall Fund of the United States (GMF). Darina has over 12 years of in-depth experience in academic work and is part of the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network.

This article was written by Darina Dvornichenko, a ReThink.CEE fellow at the German Marhall Fund of the United States (GMF). Darina has over 12 years of in-depth experience in academic work and is part of the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network.

State of Play before Feb. 24, 2022

Ukraine’s government has made rapid progress in digitalization in recent years with its main achievement being ‘Diia.’ This government application and a matching web portal were launched in 2020 and offer access to a myriad of public services and digital documents. Over 18.5 million people were already using the Diia mobile application prior to February 24, 2022. In parallel to the app, a special legal and tax regime for IT companies – Diia City – was launched. To strengthen the digital skills of ordinary Ukrainians, the government also developed Diia Digital Education – an educational series created in a similar format to Netflix. Around the time of the coronavirus pandemic a further tech solution came up: The launch of ePidtrymka (English: “eSupport”), a service that rewarded people for getting vaccinated. Despite Ukraine’s relatively low level of GDP/capita in a European context, these examples are an illustration of the digital innovation capabilities of the country and how receptive Ukrainians are to tech applications. On the day of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, all this shifted into high gear. Apps and tech solutions now play their roles both on the battlefield as well as in civilian life. 

The Day Everything Changed

Many around the world held their breaths when a full-scale war broke out on 24 February 2022. Russia’s full-scale invasion attempt pushed the Ukrainian government to put greater energy into digitalization as a way to address war-related challenges for civilians and military leaders. Digital technologies have helped to ensure safety of civilians by enabling early warning systems. The mobile application ‘Povitryana Tryvoga’ notifies users about air alerts in a city or region selected even when the smartphone is in silent mode. It does not require registration and does not collect personal data. Another mobile application, named MineFree, launched with the support of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and provides access to a map of dangerous areas. It even sends a push notification in case of approaching a dangerous object, such as a geolocated mine. At the intersection of civilian and military use, Helsi, the largest medical information system in Ukraine and a leading digital provider in the field of healthcare, allows to make an appointment and get free remote consultation from a doctor, regardless of location or medical institution. The system is not only used by internally displaced Ukrainians, but also frontline first aid-trained soldiers. 

Digital Battlefield

The way digital technologies are used in Ukraine is tangible evidence of the gradual erosion of the  barriers that traditionally separate civilian from military technology use cases. Digital technologies have helped Ukrainian citizens to participate in defending their state being armed not only with a gun, but their smartphones. While Starlink devices help coordinate artillery strikes, they also allow Ukrainian citizens to take an active part in repelling Russian troops by providing reliable access to the internet and share information about Russian troop movements.  Shortly after the invasion, the Ukrainian government repurposed the Diia app to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the Ukrainian army. Citizens can send photos and videos of spotted Russian troops through the application with geolocation. 

Just one month into the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian authorities launched 2 chatbots eVorog and STOP Russian War in Telegram which allow civilians to send photos and videos of Russian troop movements. Since March 2022, more than 433,000 Ukrainians have used the chatbot eVorog and over 100 000 the STOP Russian War account. After processing by intelligence officers, the information goes to ‘Delta‘. It is a system of collecting, processing, and displaying information about enemy forces, coordinating Ukraine’s own forces and providing situational awareness. Delta is used for planning operations and combat missions, coordination between units, secure exchanges of information, and more. The system provides a comprehensive understanding of the battlefield in real time, integrates information about the enemy from various sensors and sources on a digital map, does not require additional settings and can work on any electronic device.

Military Funding Through Technology

In addition to information the Armed Forces of Ukraine -most obviously- need weapons. And this is the first war in history where technology plays a role in getting hold of them. Several digital crowdfunding initiatives aimed at raising donations for the needs of the Ukrainian military have been launched. At the beginning of the war, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the launch of United24 as the main venue for collecting donations in support of Ukraine’s defence. According to the report of United24, during the first three months of the initiative the total amount of charitable donations exceeded US$166,000,000.

Ukrainian IT Army

The internet is awash with instances where individuals have lent their knowledge to help Ukraine’s efforts to repel the Russian invasion, thus blurring the boundaries between military and civilian actors. One example is the so-called IT Army of Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government’s own estimates, which of course need to be treated with caution, it consists of more than 400,000 international and Ukrainian volunteer hackers, who attack Russian infrastructure and websites and work closely with the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. It was created by Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, who called for volunteers to use all available kinds of cyberattacks against Russian targets. 

Blurred Lines

The plethora of specific digital tools, like apps and web portals, allow citizens and military personnel alike to access and share information in real time. Within a matter of months, Ukraine has developed a wide range of tools that even most NATO member states will find hard to match in scope, technological prowess, or ease of use at this moment. Similar to the use of drones, these applications exemplify an the increasingly blurred lines between military and civilian use cases on the modern battle field

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