Mykhailo Fedorov Runs Ukraine’s War Like a Startup

Mykhailo Fedorov Runs Ukraine's War Like a Startup

Ukraine’s Tech Innovation: From Air Raid Apps to Startup War Efforts

For thousands of Ukrainians, the familiar voice of Mark Hamill, popularly known for his role as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, has become an unexpected companion during air raid alerts. As Russia intensified its bombardment of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones over Kyiv, an ear-splitting “whoop-whoop” followed by Hamill’s voice warning of incoming attacks became a common sound. While the novelty of hearing “May the Force be with you” in air raid shelters wore off, the app behind this unique alert system reflected the scrappiness and creativity of Ukraine’s war effort.

The air alert app was developed by Ajax Systems, a home security company, in collaboration with the Ministry of Digital Transformation. On the second day of the war, Ajax’s chief marketing officer, Valentine Hrytsenko, received a phone call from the CEO of an IT outsourcing company. This call eventually led to the development of an app that would allow the government to send alerts directly to users’ smartphones. Within a week, the beta version was live, and by March, the entire country was covered. The speed at which this app was developed and deployed is a testament to Ukraine’s ability to adapt and innovate, even in the face of war.

Mykhailo Fedorov, the 32-year-old vice prime minister and head of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, has played a crucial role in leading Ukraine’s tech-driven war effort. In his five years in government, Fedorov has aimed to create tangible products that improve people’s lives and make the government more responsive. While the products and initiatives that have emerged during the war may not have been what Fedorov initially envisioned, they have proven to be invaluable in mobilizing resources and keeping the international community aware of Ukraine’s struggle.

One such initiative is United24, a platform launched by the ministry to facilitate donations for the war effort. By providing a user-friendly platform where anyone can contribute through credit card payments, PayPal, or crypto wallets, United24 has raised a reported $350 million to fund military operations, rebuild homes, and support demining operations. The platform has garnered support from celebrities like Mark Hamill, Barbra Streisand, and Imagine Dragons, not only for the financial contributions but also for its ability to engage and involve people worldwide in Ukraine’s fight for survival.

The success of projects like United24 is a testament to the groundwork laid by Fedorov and President Zelenskyy’s administration to create an open and tech-forward nation. Prior to the war, Ukraine had focused on digitizing the state, with initiatives like the Diia app, which allows users to store official documents and access a variety of government services online. This digital transformation has not only improved efficiency and transparency but has also changed the perception of the Ukrainian government, both domestically and internationally.

The war has not only accelerated Ukraine’s tech sector but has also demonstrated the country’s ability to innovate in the field of military technology. The Army of Drones, a unit within the Ukrainian army, has collaborated with engineers and programmers to develop and deploy drones for surveillance, target identification, and even explosive missions. Ukraine’s aerospace industry has also pivoted to meet the demands of the war by adapting existing technologies for military use.

The success of Ukraine’s drone warfare has been attributed to its ability to quickly adapt and refine its tactics and equipment based on feedback from soldiers on the ground. This approach mirrors the startup ethos, where constant iteration and improvement are essential for success. Ukraine’s tech sector, including drone manufacturers, has experienced significant growth during the war, with an estimated 100 viable military drone startups in the country.

Recognizing the potential of this growing industry, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, in partnership with the military, launched Brave1, a mil-tech cluster aimed at incubating promising military technologies. This initiative aims to develop technologies that can be deployed on the battlefield in Ukraine and later exported to international customers. Ukraine’s ability to turn adversity into an opportunity for technological advancement is a testament to the country’s resilience and determination.

While the war continues to present significant challenges, Ukraine and its tech sector are looking towards the future. Fedorov, now promoted to deputy prime minister for innovation, education, science, and technology, is continuing to roll out changes and reforms aimed at digitizing and improving various sectors. The war has forced Ukraine to integrate the extraordinary with the ordinary, balancing the need for immediate action with long-term advancements.

Ukraine’s tech-driven war effort has showcased the country’s ability to mobilize resources, innovate under pressure, and engage the global community. The war has proven that Ukraine can be both entrepreneurial and responsive, leveraging technology to overcome challenges and ultimately contribute to its fight for freedom. As Ukraine continues its struggle, the innovative spirit of its tech sector and the visionary leadership of individuals like Mykhailo Fedorov offer hope for a brighter future.