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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, who is a ReThink.CEE fellow at the German Marhall Fund of the United States (GMF). Based in Washington, D.C., the GMF is a bedrock institution and leading think tank of the Euro-Atlantic relationship, founded after WW2. 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 ‘Diia.’ This government application and web portal were both launched in 2020 and offer access to many public services and digital documents. More than 18.5 million people are already using the Diia mobile application. In parallel, a special legal and tax regime for IT companies – Diia City – has been launched. To strengthen the digital skills of ordinary Ukrainians, the government has developed Diia Digital Education – educational series created in a similar format to Netflix. The coronavirus pandemic triggered the launch of ePidtrymka (English translation – eSupport) on Diia, a service that rewarded people for getting vaccinated in just a few clicks. 

Digital Technologies as a Tool to Protect Civilians in Times of War

The whole world held its breath when a full-scale war broke out on February 24, giving Ukraine only three days to resist. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has pushed the government to put more energy into digitalization as a solution to address war-related challenges for civilians. Digital technologies have helped to ensure safety of civilians by enabling early warning systems. The mobile application ‘Povitryana Tryvoga’ notifies 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 MineFree, launched with the support of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine provides access to a map of dangerous areas and sends an alert in case of approaching a dangerous object. Helsi, the largest medical information system and a leading digital provider in the field of healthcare in Ukraine, allows to make an appointment and get a free remote consultation from any doctor, regardless of location or medical institution.

Since the full-scale invasion of Russia, a whole range of new services has been added to Diia. Now it is possible to receive an internally displaced person (IDP) certificate via Diia. Applications for financial compensation for real estate property damaged during the hostilities can now be filed via the app. In addition, the Ministry of Digitization has launched the first stage of a large-scale project: with its help, you can check any notarial document using a QR code. The project will make it possible to download an electronic copy of the document in a few clicks for verification and storage.

Digital Battlefield

The way digital technologies are used in Ukraine is visual evidence of the gradual erosion of the  barriers that traditionally separate civilians from combatants. Digital technologies have helped Ukrainian citizens to participate in defending their state being armed not 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.  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 through the application photos and videos of spotted Russian soldiers with geolocation. Additionally, the Ukrainian government has launched 2 chatbots eVorog and STOP Russian War in Telegram which allow citizens 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.

Military Aspects of Digitalisation

You might wonder what happens with all this data? After processing by intelligence officers, the information goes to ‘Delta.’ Delta is a system of collecting, processing, and displaying information about enemy forces, coordination of defense forces and providing situational awareness. Delta is used for planning operations and combat missions, coordination with other units, secure exchange of information on the location of enemy forces. 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 device – laptop, tablet or even on a mobile phone. The Delta platform and services are built according to NATO standards, so the system is compatible with similar solutions used by the armies of the member countries of the Alliance.

The military needs not only reliable data to plan its defense operations but also its weapons. To address this, several digital crowdfunding initiatives aimed at raising donations for the needs of the Ukrainian military have been launched. At the beginning of the war, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the start of United24 as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. According to the report of United24, during the first three months of the initiative the total amount of charitable donations exceeded $166,000, 000 which was later spent on procurement of drones and C-class ambulances.

Ukrainian IT Army

There are several instances where individuals have lent their knowledge to help Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russian invasion, thus blurring the boundaries between civilian and military actors. The IT Army of Ukraine consists of more than 400,000 international and Ukrainian volunteer hackers, who attack Russian infrastructure and websites and work closely with Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. It was created by Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, who called for volunteers to use all kinds of cyberattacks against Russian resources. A thousand or so civilian drone pilots assist in Ukraine’s defence by monitoring Russian targets from the air and relaying crucial information to Ukrainian military forces for artillery strikes. Thus, it has become possible for ordinary civilians to be engaged in waging combat operations against Russian troops alongside military.

What does the Future Hold?

Ukrainian digital technologies have been introduced in the public sector for the last several years with great export potential. Specific digital tools, like apps and web portals, allow citizens to access ID documents and obtain various government services from their smartphones are only being created in other countries. Ukraine has become a training ground where digital innovations can be tested on the battlefield, albeit for unfortunate reasons.

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