Podcast 🎧 & blog from Ukraine: Digital services keep working despite the war
Perhaps one of the strongest displays of resistance is, also, to ensure that what should be working in normal times does so as well during exceptional circumstances. This is of course a euphemism, referring to what Ukraine is undergoing with Russian forces on its territory.
In this episode of the Digital Government Podcast, we catch up with our team in Ukraine, specifically with Yurii Kopytin, Cybersecurity Component Leader of the EU4DigitalUA project. How is the situation there, are all services up and running and what developments are still ongoing despite the war – find answers to these questions (and more) in our chat with him.
Working 18 hours a day to safeguard digital government
Many among us are watching the news and, to different extents, being affected by what is happening in Ukraine. But the war breaking out hasn’t stopped the need for Ukrainian citizens to use public services. Even more so in an emergency situation, digitalization and location-independence can be crucial in plenty of cases to help Ukrainians access what they need.
“On the first day of the war, we did not know exactly what we needed to do,” said Yurii Kopytin. But that feeling was short-lived. “Then we restarted working actively and received plenty of new tasks from government authorities. Right now, we are working 18 hours a day, every day, no weekends, doing the traditional tasks as planned according to the project outlines. On par with that, the Ukrainian government also wanted us to do other things, such as securing government registers and data,” Kopytin explains.
Sleep routines, unsurprisingly, have been heavily affected by the current situation. “We can sleep two or three hours a day. When in Kyiv, it was very hard anyway because at night you hear a lot of helicopters, airplanes, even rockets. You can try to sleep but actually, you can’t,” Kopytin says. “The tasks at hand also need to be done as quickly as possible, especially if we talk about the migration of data from government registers. Or drafting changes to legislation that need to be implemented fast. We do these activities at night,” Kopytin says.
Transformation plans are not affected by the war
Digital services, then, have been up and running pretty much the whole time despite the military invasion. Yurii is also one of the main architects of the Trembita data exchange platform, which powers information exchange across organizations in the country. “Only for very short periods, authorities could not use some services. But this happened just on the first or second day of the war. People are able to use services and are effectively using them, especially COVID certificates generated from the national health register,” Kopytin explains.
Another sign in this direction is the fact that Ukraine’s plans for digital transformation have not been affected particularly by the conflict. Indeed, Kopytin and the team are working on Trembita 2.0 – an upgrade to the existing system. “I think that nothing will stop Ukraine in that sense. There are big plans for digital transformation in the next three to five years. There are plans also to create a lot of new services. In the current situation, some tasks have changed to adapt to the war context, for example creating some necessary applications and dedicated updates.”
On Trembita 2.0, the work is focusing on “The development of the personal data protection module (as for example Estonia has). We have some small delays but, otherwise, everything will be realized in a timely manner. Trembita 2.0 will be faster and make possible better data exchange connections,” Kopytin highlights.
Cyber exercises are useful, but the real-life experience is another thing
Yurii Kopytin was also responsible for cyber exercises before the conflict. In his view, such exercises helped Ukrainian authorities to be prepared and stop different kinds of attacks. “They’ve been very useful. But every real-life situation generates new, real-life experience indeed. We have to search for the best solution to stop, for example, DDoS attacks from Russia to Ukrainian websites of government authorities. These solutions must be found quickly, and of course, there is no time to actually analyze and select them,” Kopytin says.
Previous to the invasion, “We saw a lot of cyberattacks. But the main problem right now is represented by attempts to create fake channels of communication, in which there are talks of a capitulation of Ukraine or some different false information. We are trying to block these channels for reassuring the citizens,” Kopytin concludes.
The Ukrainian experience, in this sense, shows how going digital works – as much as possible – towards granting that the public sector keeps working even in the direst situations. An insurance, to look at it this way, in extreme and hostile circumstances.
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International Red Cross, https://www.icrc.org/en
Doctors Without Borders, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
Save The Children, https://www.savethechildren.net/
United Help to Ukraine, http://www.unitedhelpukraine.org/
Ukraina heaks, https://www.ukrainaheaks.ee/ (in Estonia)