The Ukrainian tech community is showing signs of resilience as Russia invades the country and big tech giants battle the tension caused by propaganda. As Russia began building its military might in Belarus and at a shared border with Ukraine, the whole scene played out for the world on TikTok.
Videos of Russian troops massing on Ukraine‘s borders were being shared widely on TikTok last week, showing how information is now disseminated through tech platforms and not mainstream media channels. However, platforms like Facebook and Google also had to battle Russian propaganda.
Tech platforms have had a rough few years battling Russian disinformation on their platform. Experts have been hard at work debunking narratives spread on platforms like Facebook, Telegram, and elsewhere about Western aggression and even supposed violence by Ukrainian forces.
Even US President Joe Biden mentioned Russia pushing “false-flag events” as a pretext for the invasion. Now, that Russian forces have launched a military assualt on Ukraine by crossing its borders and bombing targets near big cities, the country’s tech community is gearing up to stand with Ukraine. Even tech companies in the US and other countries who have relied on Ukraine as a source of cheap and reliable tech talent are trying to evacuate their employees and keep services online.
Tech community is one of the pillars of Ukraine’s resistance
TechUkraine, an organisation with a European core but global outlook, is leading the charge on dissemination of verified information. In the face of disinformation and propaganda on tech platforms, TechUkraine is encouraging people to take two steps to help Ukraine “stand against Russian aggression”.
It is encouraging people to spread only verified information and is also supporting organisations that strengthen Ukraine’s defence capabilities. It is also extensively sharing details of the official website, Twitter and Facebook profile of the President of Ukraine, MFA of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s official social media accounts as verified sources.
It is also encouraging people around the world to stand in solidarity with Ukrainians who are seeking peace by using the hashtag #StandwithUkraine. Some of the other hashtags used by TechUkraine include #StopRussianAggression, #UkraineUnderAttack and #RussiaInvadedUkraine.
“We in Ukraine already got used to living under some pressure of an ongoing war, which didn’t start now. It has already been in Ukraine since 2014, but today it entered in its open phase,” says TechUkraine’s Director Nataly Veremeeva. She hopes that diplomatic effort and international pressure on Russia will help the country cope with this unprecedented challenge.
In a statement shared with Silicon Canals, Veremeeva argues that Ukrainian tech community’s spirits are stronger than ever. “Tech community, being an active part of the society, consisting of thousands of educated people with a global outlook, is one of the pillars of Ukraine’s resistance. Millions of hryvnias were donated to support the army. The Ukrainian tech entrepreneurs have helped spread the world to the global community and media, raise awareness, and help in diplomatic and military negotiations,” she says.
“We know we are fighting for our country, for our freedom to build our future according to global values. And there is no way back. Freedom, once tasted, can’t be forgotten. High ideals, once understood, stay with us forever. We only hope millions and billions of people all over the world, businessmen, politicians and ordinary people will support us in this effort to build a better future in this part of the world, the future of the best ideals, developed by humanity at the moment. And tech community is indeed a very valuable, educated proactive part of these elites, shaping this future and pushing it forward despite all hurdles, even such gross ones, as we are currently facing,” she adds.
Talking about the impact of this crisis on the Ukrainian tech ecosystem, she says, “Our biggest threat is panic among clients. Of course, it is riskier to work with IT companies in a country experiencing military aggression, then in a peaceful country. But the example of Israel proves that it is possible and even beneficial. There is a huge difference in motivation between people, working only for money and people, inspired by high ideas and missions.”
“We do hope that clients of Ukrainian companies will choose to continue working with us. This is really important, since the income, earned by such projects, goes to support the army and also the whole economy of Ukraine. A lot of companies have their contingency plans, and IT is known for its flexibility. Ukrainian tech already did have experience of managing to maintain operations without losing quality when our eastern regions were attacked 8 years ago in 2014. And we do believe our management maturity will help not to let down a single client, that will choose to continue working with our talented developers and buy our IT products,” she further explains.
MacPaw’s operations remain unaffected
MacPaw, a company building Mac utility applications, has issued a statement reassuring its users that the invasion won’t affect its services. MacPaw was founded and operated primarily in Kyiv, Ukraine, but the company has been preparing for these circumstances. “[We] were already mainly working remotely to ensure no disruptions in the support and development of our products,” CEO Oleksandr Kosovan says in a blog post.
Kosovan notes that MacPaw hosts its infrastructure and user data on Amazon Web Services and the cloud operation is outside Ukraine. “We have launched an emergency plan to ensure the safety of our peers based in Ukraine. With regards to the use of our products, including CleanMyMac, Setapp, etc., we ensure no disruptions in the support and development. We securely host all of our infrastructure and user data on Amazon Web Services, and the cloud service server’s physical location is outside Ukraine,” a company spokesperson told Silicon Canals.
While MacPaw’s services will continue to work, the company is focusing on “security of its peers”. “At this moment, we’re staying strong, united, and ready to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. To support Ukraine in this dark hour, please spread the word among colleagues and readers. Please consider donating to Come Back Alive or other charities helping Ukraine and its Armed Forces,” the spokesperson added.
Preply offers assistance to staff in Ukraine
Preply, a US-based language learning app and e-learning platform, said that it has activated full support for its staff where necessary. CEO Kirill Bigai told Silicon Canals in a statement that “it’s a devastatingly sad day in Ukraine and our thoughts are wholeheartedly with everybody who is affected.”
Bigai adds that two thirds of its employees are stationed in Barcelona or elsewhere around the world. However, for its staff based in Ukraine, the company is offering assistance to relocate to a different location.
“As a US registered company, there is no critical impact to our business operations. Our activity is global and all major financial flows and servers are outside of Ukraine. Our 40,000+ tutors and the hundreds of thousands of students that take classes on Preply are based all over the glove,” he adds.
Finmap founder remembers past Russian aggression
Ivan Kaunov, founder of a Ukrainian startup developing a corporate finance management application, says, “We are immune to Putin’s intimidation.”
In an interview with CzechCrunch, Kaunov recollected military intervention from eight years ago, which saw Russia-backed separatists take control of the Crimean peninsula. “Almost every family has faced this situation. I grew up as a child near Donetsk. I have several relatives who had to move from there and left their homes in 2014,” he adds.
Donetsk in eastern Ukraine was one of the first cities to be attacked by Russian forces and reports have claimed at least five blasts heard in the separatist-held city.
Kaunov further adds that the situation remains calm in the capital city of Kyiv. “In a country that is expecting a military invasion, the situation here is quite calm. There is no panic or an effort to escape, on the contrary, everyone is trying to find ways to help the army. People join the defence units or pay a lot of taxes to the government in advance,” he told the publication.
In an interview with Silicon Canals, Kaunov says Ukrainian tech community has created an army of IT professionals with 1,00,500 tasks aimed at “those who are willing to help from a safe place.”
He also says one of the ways to limit this invasion is by showing the people of Russia what’s happening in Ukraine and getting the facts to them. The call from Kaunov and other leaders has led to the EU banning Russian state media and tech platforms like Meta and YouTube following suit.
Ajax Systems focuses on safety of its team and delivery to partners
Ajax Systems is one of the Ukrainian tech companies to confirm that it has done everything it can to protect its teams and business. “The priority today is the lives and safety of our employees. We are following the news carefully and relocating our teams to safe regions in Ukraine or Europe. Support and coordinated action keep us calm,” the company says.
The company also says it is prioritising to fulfill all its obligations in deliveries to partners and is preparing to ship orders placed earlier, as well as ready-made orders in Kyiv, from Poland. “A two-month supply of components and finished products is being transported to the West of Ukraine and Poland right now,” a company spokesperson tells Silicon Canals.
Sigma Software sets focus on business continuity and team safety
Like many other tech startups in Ukraine, Sigma Software is also prioritising safety of its team. In an email response, Aleksandra Govorukha, Head of International PR at Sigma Software Group, tells Silicon Canals that “[Sigma Software] is focusing all of its efforts on business continuity.”
Govorukha says despite the challenging situation, the team at Sigma Software continues to work and that many of its clients support Ukraine “not only with words but with [their] actions too. They send humanitarian help, launch charity funds, and offer new projects.”
Sigma Software recently became the number one software supplier in the Nordic region and during these tough times, the company is seeing its team becoming more united and stronger than before. “When people go through such hardship together and overcome so many difficulties they become unstoppable,” Govorukha adds.
Govorukha says she is grateful to global tech community and tech leaders for their support. She also expresses her gratitude to individual techies who are hacking into Russia’s government sites to curtail the invasion. “The truth is on our side and the civilized world sees this clearly. We should unite our efforts otherwise democracy could be forever damaged,” she says.
European Startup Network members offer support to Ukrainian entrepreneurs
The European Startup Network has expressed its solidarity with the Ukrainian people and stated, “Ukraine is a part of Europe and just became a conflict zone. It is of utmost importance that as an independent country, Ukraine can build and grow its own tech sector and startup ecosystem. However, due to the current circumstances and in the spirit of European friendship, we would like to welcome any Ukrainian. In our field, we know that many Ukrainian entrepreneurs are now looking for safer places for their projects, their employees and family members. “
It also mentioned that wants to provide solutions and is calling all startup ecosystems to open a friendly door: any Ukrainian founder who would like to find a safe harbour will be welcomed by any member organisation of ESN.
- In Bulgaria, our member organization BESCO is working with the government to open borders for all tech talent (and their families) working for Ukrainian companies represented in Bulgaria or Bulgarian companies with employees residing in Ukraine.
- In France, Euratechnologies will sponsor visa applications for tech founders and their families, and offer free access to its acceleration programs for up to 30+ startups : https://euratechnologies.typeform.com/apply?typeform-source=www.euratechnologies.com
- In Spain, Spanish Startups will provide free consultancy for all the startups and founders who would like to move to Spain and provide assistance about the ecosystem and how to start operations in the country.
- In Romania, as a southern neighboring country, ROTSA is offering assistance and connections with the entire national ecosystem to Ukrainian startups looking for relocation/expansion in the proximity of their national territory, for the time needed. Additionally we will continue to ask our government to adopt more friendly startup visa conditions.
- In Latvia, the startup ecosystem, led by Startin.LV, TechHub Riga, and TechChill, is urging the national government to soften the immigration and legal requirements for the Ukrainian entrepreneurs and startups seeking to expand to Europe and/or relocate.
- In Italy, InnovUp is asking the Italian Government to activate an immediate visa pass for startuppers and all innovative entrepreneurs from Ukraine.
- In Portugal, besides the country’s official solidarity already expressed for the Ukraine people and the 28,000 Ukrainians living in Portuguese territory, Beta-i is contacting all of it Ukrainian startup alumni to offer support, and it’s also open to provide assistance to any entrepreneur aiming to move its business to the country.
Ukrainian VC community preparing for impact
Vitaly Laptenok, General Partner at Flyer One Ventures, says that “there is no noticeable impact on VC business activity at the moment.” However, he does see a certain impact on investment in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion.
Flyer One is an international CIS-region focused VC with offices in Kyiv and London. In a statement shared with Silicon Canals, Laptenok says Flyer One’s VC team plans to continue to work as usual.
“When it comes to investor’s intentions, the way we plan to invest in the near future has not changed. Our investments strategy remains the same, as well as all the fundraising assistance we arrange for our portfolio companies. The best we can do now is to keep doing our job well under conditions of safety and ensuring that all priority needs are met,” he adds.
He further explains that founders and top management of tech companies have been closely monitoring the situation while tech people from the local community “manage to maintain a fairly large focus on business needs.” Ukraine-based tech companies are able to operate due to the rapid communication and are prioritising safety and security of their employees.
“The majority of our portfolio companies operate in international markets and continue their business with no changes, while we steadily help them in our areas of expertise.”
Laptenok also told us that the European and global community has shown great support by staying in touch with Ukrainian founders and expressing supportive opinions online. “We are already eternally grateful for all the social and informational support that the international tech community is providing right now,” he says.
Ways to help Ukrainian tech community
In a LinkedIn post, Robert Vis, founder and CEO of Amsterdam-based MessageBird, has offered ways to support the Ukrainian tech community. “Silence is never the answer. Calling all (tech) founders specifically to speak up. Sovereignty must be respected [sic],” Vis wrote.
Here are some of the ways that Vis recommends tech companies to support Ukraine’s fledgling tech community right now:
- Representation letters for employees and their families who want to leave their country. He notes that these companies must state that they will be financially responsible.
- Building safety houses around the borders of Ukraine for people to have a place to go when they leave the country.
- Since local banks have shut down, Vis recommends funds to cover medical and food supplies at the borders.
Vis has gone ahead to announce that MessageBird will its own impose sanctions on Russian customers that would see them blocked from accessing API to the platform, block SMS and voice traffic to Russian carriers by its global customer base.
“MessageBird will impose its own sanctions on Russian customers by shutting down their API access to our platform, block SMS & Voice traffic to russian carriers by our global customer base and re-route all humanitarian / NGO communications traffic through international roaming agreements as per 26/02/2022 9am CET,” mentions Vis.
He explains the reason behind doing so:
“As technology companies we are uniquely positioned to use our powers to -peacefully- object to the actions taken by the Russian government against the Ukrainian sovereignty by way of penalizing the Russian economy. We understand that this is unfair to the people and businesses of Russia who have absolutely nothing to do with this, however they are not being violated in their human rights as the Ukrainian population is incurring military violence. Subject to using violence we see this as the only way. Furthermore, we will continue to support our employees in Ukraine (and Russia for that matter) and will incorporate our own NGO with immediate effect to allow for a vehicle to support humanitarian resources. I want to continue to call on all (tech) founders to understand that silence is never the answer and to speak up. Sovereignty must be respected. On a personal note my heart equally goes out to the brave Russian citizens who are standing up to their government despite the risk of imprisonment and as per the last words of the brave Ukrainian soldiers fighting: Go f*** yourself!”
Olga Kravchenko, the Ukrainian CEO of Musemio, has posted an important message for all HR people on LinkedIn. She says HR should reach out immediately to any Ukrainian nationals within their organisation, offer them support and make them know that the company supports them through this turmoil.
“It would help if you were prepared to accept that these people are now in survival mode and might be ordered to go to shelters. They might lose any connection with the outside world. They might choose to stay offline as much as possible to avoid informational distress. They need to know that they have your support,” she says.
Grammarly, a successful startup from Ukraine and the beacon for Ukraine’s tech ecosystem, is focussing on the safety and well-being of its team. Brad Hoover, CEO of Grammarly, says the company has built contingency plans for various scenarios, including financial and logistical assistance to team members and their families.
In its commitment to support Ukraine, Hoover says Grammarly is offering its service for free to all nonprofits and NGOs doing the essential work in the country. On LinkedIn, Hoover says 160 organisations within Ukraine have signed up and is urging more organisations to join.
Mario Grunitz, Co-founder of Amsterdam-based WeAreBrain, mentions in his LinkedIn post, “Twelve hours ago, the world as we all know it most likely changed forever. It just all came crushing down and a new reality is unfolding right in front of us… a horrible reflection of our worst nightmares. This morning after a feverish night without much sleep I had to explain to my six-year-old son what war actually means and in tears I had to promise him that daddy will keep our friends in Ukraine safe. Today is a dark day but we must prevail. We might be small but every action counts. We must be strong and help all those in need right now.”
“We currently continue evacuation protocols for our local teams and their families and continue to provide full HR, financial, logistical and moral support to those team members who currently stay in Kyiv and/or their respective home towns across the country. In parallel, we will start relocation procedures to other office locations like the Netherlands where we will do our best to help with work permits and housing. The next couple of days will be challenging, stressful and hectic so now more than ever we need to somehow stay calm, supportive and focused. If you read this and know of anyone in need of help in Ukraine, please share. If anyone in my Dutch network is able and willing to help, especially with housing support please reach out ????”
Jarosław Krolewski, the CEO and founder of AI and big data company Synerise, called upon all the Big Tech firms to stop their services to public institutions in Russia.
Victoria Kirillova, who is a FinTech Market Analyst at Relevant Software, posted, “Most of the Relevant Software employees are located in Lviv (western part of Ukraine). We are contacting all engineers to check their mental health, ensure their safety, and give all the help required. We keep receiving and analyzing all the information from the border and our government. We continue to work as usual. By continuing doing business we support our economy which gives us additional support to defend our country ???????? Relevant stays there for all the specialists and the clients.”
Explaining how the global and European tech community can help, TechUkraine’s Director Nataly Veremeev, says, “Continue buying Ukrainian services and products. Spread the news from our official sources, the main one is https://ukraine.ua/news/stand-with-ukraine/. Donate to the funds to support our army, medical and logistical support. And most importantly – use your networks and resources to push your politicians to provide us more military support, air defence (very important now!) and apply such sanctions on Russia, that this country underwent such collapse of power, that will force it to change their political system, values and stories that inspire them. Their political system and the system of beliefs should fail, and time is really of vital importance now.”
“Also, you could help Russians that do not support the current political system in Russia to rise and defend their right to build a strong, adequate Russia, a respected and a safe member of the global community. This is the only sustainable solution, that will vaccinate the whole world against this constant Russian threat of inadequate global choices and tensions in all its neighbouring countries. The spirit of a totalitarian Soviet state needs to go forever and now it is the global task to wake this awareness up and help Russia do it. Any informational influence to empower proactive Russians and helping them achieve this objective would help,” she adds.
She also shared a profound and deep message for all. “Please be aware, that this is not only about Ukraine. Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you. There is no option not to participate and not to be part of it. If you let Ukraine lose, the next country could be yours. Remember, Russia is a totalitarian state with a nuclear potential. And once it tastes the blood and impunity, it will be really hard to stop. Help us in our fight for our country, for our values and our path. We are a truly European and global country, wishing to add the most precious that we have – our creative spirit and minds of our smart people – to solving not only local tasks, but also challenges that the whole humanity is facing. And please support us with all your resources, now it is more important, than ever.”
Interviews by Rahul Raj