Tech in Ukraine
An unexpected outcome of the war in Ukraine has been its one-of-a-kind cyber campaign. Alongside military efforts on the ground and in the air, Russian forces are strategically cyberattacking Ukraine, using malware campaigns and commercial communication disturbances. Arguably, the Ukrainian government has been so successful at thwarting these attacks, thanks to support from Western allies and through having already experienced a decade of similar, albeit less intense, aggression.
Under near constant attack, Ukraine’s tech industry has been working relentlessly and remotely to maintain some ‘normality’ for its employees. Before the war began, Ukraine was an attractive new hotspot for IT development and outsourcing, with IT exports reaching US$6.8 in 2021. In 2020, more than US$571 million of venture capital and private equity was brought into Ukraine’s tech sector.
Yet, the conflict has taken its toll on the industry. There are an estimated 1,000 Ukrainian IT workers that have been displaced by the invasion, and an estimated 70,000 Russian tech workers have also fled. Many of them continue to work remotely, and many tech companies have found ways to contribute to the war effort and fight Russian disinformation. But as uncertainty looms over the future of the country, it is difficult to imagine much growth in outsourcing to Ukraine in the near future (yet some companies expect otherwise).
Although many tech workers have left, a large number have also decided to stay. Some simply did not had the option to leave (Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 were legally required to remain when the war broke out). During this time, IT employees working with foreign firms lost their jobs because stable internet connections became scarce. In response, Ukraine’s Digital Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to donate Starlink terminals to provide its population and military with satellite interne, to which Musk obliged. Since then, it has cost SpaceX around US$80 million to keep the 25,000 terminals going.
In the last month or so, strange things have occurred. In late September, Starlink terminals stopped working in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. Whether this was malfunction, Russian jamming or intentional ‘retreat’ of Starlink in response to Russian advances, remains unclear. Then, in October, Musk tweeted a peace proposal for the war in Ukraine (recommending that Ukraine should follow Putin’s wish to make Luhansk and Donetsk ‘independent’), which set off a flurry of tweets from heads of government, disapproving of his intervention.
Two main points can be drawn from these recent events. First, Musk’s involvement in Ukraine with Starlink terminals has provided the country with a lifeline. Second, it has raised a number of questions on the ethics of foreign internet ‘aid’ in times of crisis.
- SpaceX terminals back online in Ukraine FT
- Cyber warfare is not just online, it’s physical too –Russian attacks on communication infrastructure debilitate cyber resilience (see Wired, Data Center Dynamics, Time)
- Big Tech should support the Iranian people, not the regimesNYT