Ukraine’s collaborative blueprint for digital resilience in wartime

Before Russia's encroachment on Ukrainian territory, the tendrils of technology were embedding themselves deep within Ukraine's economic fabric. This was central to the government's aspirational vision of redefining state-citizen and state-business interactions in an increasingly digital age—envisioning a landscape devoid of paperwork, cash, and bureaucratic burden. 

It recognised the vast potential of technology as an enabler, a tool to enhance transparency, elevate efficiency, empower citizens, fortify participation, and root out corruption. But with the eruption of conflict, the role of technology metamorphosed; it became an essential lifeline, a shield against Russian aggressions targeting civilians. 

The strategic deployment of digital tools showcased Ukraine as a beacon of digital innovation and resilience amidst adversity. The spotlight was on 'gov-tech' solutions, emphasising how digital governance can safeguard essential governance functions even during extreme crises, underscoring the monumental significance of digital-led public innovations.

Guiding the digital voyage: leadership matters

The foundation of any transformation is visionary leadership. President Zelenskyy, even before the crisis, dreamt of a "state on a smartphone." His vision sought to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and endemic corruption by drawing inspiration from the service models of tech giants such as Uber and Airbnb. 

The establishment of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, led by the dynamic Vice-Prime Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, was a pivotal move. Fedorov, with his background in marketing devoid of political baggage, brought on board a cadre of young tech enthusiasts, with around half lacking any prior civil service experience. This infusion of fresh energy was complemented by the creation of Chief Digital Transformation Officers (CDTOs), flag-bearers of digital metamorphosis at every echelon, from the national to grassroots level agencies.

The rise of Diia: personified digital governance 

2020 witnessed the birth of the e-governance platform "Diia" – an embodiment of Ukraine's ambition to prioritise digital-first public service delivery. Diia, translating to "Action" in Ukrainian, offered a cohesive digital infrastructure, enabling seamless access to essential documents for their citizens—ranging from national IDs and passports to Covid certificates and pension documents. 

This made Ukraine a pioneer, boasting a digital passport with full legal parity to traditional documents and becoming one of the early adopters in Europe of the digital driver's license. The digital service repository has been growing exponentially, with nearly 19 million Ukrainians currently benefiting from Diia.

Strengthening digital foundations amidst adversity

The war brought unparalleled challenges. With almost 12 million people displaced, the majority being women safeguarding their children, there arose an exigency for reliable, globally accepted digital identity solutions. 

Diia became an instrumental tool, aiding individuals in asserting their identities even when bereft of physical documentation. Recognizing Diia's utility, several neighbouring nations validated these digital credentials. Ukraine engaged in extensive collaborations, elucidating the functionalities of its digital assets, leading to temporary validation mechanisms through the government's portal.

Continuous Russian assaults on Ukraine's digital architecture, including key data centres and communication nodes, catalysed a shift towards international infrastructures. Modifications in data protection legislations allowed for data cloud storage abroad, with tech stalwarts like Microsoft and Amazon partnering with the Ukrainian government. Satellite internet ensured uninterrupted connectivity for crucial facilities.

Expanding digital horizons: from public services to defence

War, while posing challenges, also acted as a catalyst for the Ukrainian government to amplify its digital public service arsenal. 

Diia swiftly became indispensable, reaching out to displaced Ukrainians, facilitating their registration as internally displaced people, and ensuring uninterrupted access to assistance, from cash transfers to humanitarian aid. 

Beyond these services, defence initiatives were streamlined digitally. A quintessential example being the eEnemy Telegram chatbot, tailored for verified Ukrainian citizens. This platform, boasting nearly half a million users, became a conduit for sharing vital information about the Russian military's movements and assets.

Embracing digital diplomacy and collaboration

The digital trajectory of nations varies, with emergent democracies sometimes outpacing their established counterparts. Ukraine's wartime exigencies fast-tracked its digital evolution. 

Recognising the potential, international partners have supported platforms like Diia, envisioning its potential scalability across nations in strong belief that many more nations will tread this path, learning from Ukraine's exemplary digital resilience amidst adversity.

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