A Digital Marshall Plan for Ukraine

Mykhailo Fedorov, the Minister for Digitization, wants to make Ukraine the “most digital state” in the world within three years. © Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

Ukraine’s reconstruction must also focus on digitizing state institutions. This was stated by the Ukrainian minister responsible for this dossier, Mykhailo Fedorov, during the conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine in Lugano.

This content was posted on July 05, 2022 – 15:08

Digitization is one of those buzzwords that have long been part of the vocabulary of modern politicians. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows how digital tools – in addition to cyber warfare and military technology – can be used in conflict.

Many observers expected a rapid collapse of the Ukrainian state after the invasion of the Russian army. Four months later, his predictions have not been confirmed. “And we continue to make progress in digitizing our government despite the fighting,” Mikhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Minister for Digital Transformation, said at the Conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction. The young minister (31) was part of the Ukrainian delegation to Lugano, the largest to travel abroad since the start of the Russian invasion.

A message conveyed in the communication style adopted by the Ukrainian authorities since the beginning of the war: modern, decidedly optimistic and multimedia. His presentation could easily pass for a TED talk and demonstrates why Ukraine won the propaganda battle, at least in the West.

Ukraine’s media power

This is largely due to technology apostles like Mikhailo Fedorov: the former businessman has long been a traveling companion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and is one of the personalities behind the rise of the technology sector that took place in Ukraine in the last few years. last years.

Mikhailo Fedorov also skillfully uses social networks. Thus, he exerted strong pressure on the Western tech giants to withdraw from Russia. With some success: Apple, Google and Meta left Russia. He was also the one who called Elon Musk on Twitter to secure Ukraine’s Internet connection through his Starlink satellite network. As a result, Internet connections are sometimes faster than they were before the war.

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Since 2019, Mikhailo Fedorov has been responsible for the government’s digital showcase: the Diia app. Thanks to this, all state services should be able to be managed through smartphones by 2024.

This ambitious project had to be adapted very early to the demands of the war that has been going on since 2014. Displaced people from the Donbass and Crimea were able to register their properties in the occupied territories or register newborns in the civil registry since these regions.

Some neighboring countries of Ukraine have recently accepted digital identity cards from refugees who lost their documents in the chaos of war when crossing borders and registering at asylum centers. Ukraine is the first country to fully use the electronic identity card.

In addition, the ministry headed by Mikhailo Fedorov also plays an important role in fundraising. With the help of the United24 platform, for example, a fundraising campaign was launched to allow Ukraine to acquire military and medical goods. The country really needs money. In March and April, exports fell by half compared to the same period of the previous year. Spending on defense and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure has increased rapidly.

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The shift in war-related priorities happened quickly. The Diia app now broadcasts information, sends alert messages, and citizens can file damage to their homes or apply for financial assistance. Even the payment of these aids is made via the app.

In addition, civilians can upload footage of Russian troop movements in a chatbot – apparently, this is a quality source of information for the Ukrainian military. Mikhailo Fedorov also spoke proudly of the “IT army” made up of volunteers helping to fight Russian cyberattacks and hacking websites of Russian authorities.

The “most digital state” in the world

In Lugano, Mikhailo Fedorov presented the Digital4Freedom initiative, whose objective is nothing less than making Ukraine the “most digital state” in the world within three years. The minister spoke of a digital Marshall Plan needed to restore his country’s bombed infrastructure and bring it to the next level in the tech world.

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A taste was given during the framework program of the reconstruction conference. Mikhailo Fedorov signed a memorandum with three telecommunications companies, in which they pledged 13 million dollars for digital reconstruction. “We want to make Ukraine a European Israel,” he told reporters.

Switzerland’s role

The fact that the digital Marshall Plan started in Lugano is an interesting coincidence. In fact, within the framework of its cooperation with the countries of Eastern Europe, Switzerland has been involved in Ukraine from an early age, whether in the context of the major reform of decentralization or the promotion of peace, but also specifically in digitalisation. Several e-government projects are expected to facilitate people’s access to information and fight corruption, two long-standing problems in Ukraine.

“In some areas, we are a step ahead of Switzerland in terms of digital technology,” said Mikhailo Fedorov. But in others we have a lot to learn, for example when it comes to digital financial instruments or e-democracy.” This visit was a good opportunity to make contacts in this field. Among the 1,000 conference attendees, many came from the business and technology sectors.

The young minister is full of superlatives when describing his country’s digital future, and his vision at times seems bombastic – the country is indeed in the midst of a costly war of attrition that is mobilizing enormous resources. But at least he has a plan and Mikhailo Fedorov is sure that plan will survive the war.

Translated from German by Samuel Jaberg

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