Griffin on Tech: Ukraine's tech community goes to war
The last time you watched TV news footage of buildings being blown to bits, the images probably came from Aleppo or Benghazi.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is different. This is a country of 44 million people that has aspirations to be part of the European Union.
It has a highly educated workforce, a thriving tech start-up scene and high broadband penetration. It is a global hub to send software outsourcing projects and is therefore highly networked with companies all over the world. Those who work with Ukrainians from afar have been watching in horror this week as their colleagues faced either fleeing the country or taking up arms against the invading Russian forces.
The highly-networked nature of Ukraine, its tech-savvy workforce with a high level of fluency in English has served the country well in its efforts to rally support around the world in the face of overwhelming odds. As I wrote on BusinessDesk yesterday, the Ukrainians, ably led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have done a masterful job at waging the information war against Russia.
My social media feeds have been bathed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag as people all over the world pledge solidarity with the people of Ukraine. It amounts to more than just virtual hugs. Tens of millions worth of crypto donations have been donated to Ukraine, much more in hard cash from individuals and companies alike, including Google which pledged US$15 million in support.
But more importantly, the overwhelming international condemnation of Putin's aggression, amplified via social media, has brought Putin's Nato rivals together. The action to remove SWIFT access to Russian banks and prevent the central bank in Moscow from accessing reserves of euros and US dollars have major repercussions for Russia's economy.
Nevertheless, by the end of the weekend, Russian forces may effectively control Ukraine's key cities. As bungled as the first phase of its invasion was, Putin has the military might to win on the ground and Nato will not put its own troops into Ukraine for fear of sparking World War III.
Tech in the trenches
But what of the tech community, now dispersed and engaged in the fight of their lives? This week has seen some incredible stories emerge of the innovative ways they've tried to thwart the invasion, from collecting and publishing digital CCTV video from across the country that document Russian military brutality, to organising logistics for medicine, bedding and food.
Internet providers have scrambled to install connections in bunkers so Ukrainians can continue to communicate and counter the disinformation Russian sources are pumping the country. Ukraine's digital ministry has coordinated efforts to amass an army of hackers to launch denial of service attacks against Russian institutions.
The Ukrainian-based satellite data firm EOS Data Analytics (EOSDA), has been working with satellite mapping companies to get up to date images showing Russian troop movements to help Ukraine's citizen army help the country's military take on the superior Russian forces.
This is extraordinary stuff. This is not war in a developing country we have little visibility into. It is a war in a modern democracy, the first of its kind in our hyperconnected world. It's a horrifying glimpse of what war in Europe could look like, with the looming threat of nuclear disaster looming large in the background.
Ukrainians have won our admiration and respect this week. The tech community has also shown itself to be innovative, resourceful and willing to do whatever it can to assist its country in its time of crisis. They are people just like you, developers, engineers, product managers and data analysts. We can only add moral and/or financial support from afar and ask ourselves, what would we do if we were in their shoes?
Hopefully it's a question we never have to seriously consider in our own country.
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