We Will Win This War | Interview With Valeriya Ionan

We Will Win This War | Interview With Valeriya Ionan

More than a month has passed since Russia violently invaded Ukraine. Military operations continue to this day, destroying Ukrainian cities and pressuring Ukrainian Government bodies to function at a nearly impossible pace. Despite challenges, Ukrainian ministries continue to put their best efforts into handling the crisis. The CheckPoints sat down with the Deputy Minister of Digital Transformations of Ukraine, Valeriya Ionan, to find out more.

Valeriya, thank you so much for finding the time to catch up. I know how hard it is for you to find time in this terrible routine to talk with the Forbes audience. I hope you are safe and your family and friends are safe. Thank you again for your time.

Thank you so much for having me.

I want to start from the early period. I know it’s going to be rather emotionally difficult for you right now to remember this period maybe, but maybe during this interview, you will brief our viewers and followers about the purpose of the establishment of the ministry where you are presented as a deputy minister. Tell us a few words about the team and about the purpose of why it was established.

As you have mentioned, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine is a new ministry. The ministry was established two and a half years ago, and before the war, we were very fast-paced. We do have a philosophy in our ministry. We want to transform people’s lives, institutions, and businesses better with the help of digital technology. For these 2.5 years, we have done lots of impressive reforms. We were working on ‘state in a smartphone.’ I think that our ministry was successful in presenting a completely new and modern vision for Ukraine. We had four strategic goals for the ministry, which were the first one was to make 100% of public services online. The second one is to cover the whole country with access to the Internet, then to teach 6 million Ukrainian people digital literacy skills. And the fourth goal is to increase the level of IT in the GDP of Ukraine up to 10%. To achieve those goals, we have established an ecosystem of national projects, which is called Diaa. By the way, Diaa in Ukrainian means action. The ecosystem has five different projects, which is the Diaa app – one of the probably most popular apps in Ukraine. There are more than 16 million users.

The reason for the popularity is the services that are engaged in this app or something else?

Absolutely. We’ve managed to introduce the world’s first digital IDs, which are fully legal counterparts to plastic and paper documents. Many of the documents are now in your app, and there is no need to use plastic or paper ones.

Friendly and comfortable, everything in just one space, correct?

Yes. The app includes the most popular services, for example, taxes and so on. Then the second project is the portal for public services, where more than 70 services are placed. This is actually the portal where we plan to digitize all the services in four years. Then the project, Diia.Digital Education, which is a national program for digital literacy, has two components the national educational platform for digital literacy and also the network of offline hubs to allow people of elegant age to study digital literacy. We also have Diaa city – the first virtual business country and Diaa.Business, the National Project for the Development of SMEs. These are five main projects, each one with its own goals, with its own target audience, with lots of achievements for this 2.5 years. This is exactly why Diaa is so popular among Ukrainian citizens.

Valeria, Can I consider that Diaa was a foundation for things that would definitely cover all the four components you have identified under the Ministry of Digital Transformation to implement and achieve all the goals and aims which were declared 2.5 years ago.

Yes, you’re right.

It’s difficult to say, “let’s consider that we do not have a war right now”, but from this perspective, how do you personally evaluate the aims and purposes of the ministry itself. Were the goals achieved, or were they on their way to being achieved because, as you said, you expected to implement everything within the four years. Am I right?

Yes, correct.

So what was implemented, and what remains on standby mode.

As I’ve mentioned before, we were very fast-paced. I would say that all of the benchmarks that were put on our team were achieved in this time. When looking at, for example, the Diaa app, all of the plans were implemented. But it is also important to mention that, you know, for the last two years we had COVID 19, so for lots of services, we had to make ad hoc solutions. By the way, COVID 19 certificates, for example, were among the first recognized by the European Union, and they were placed in the app, I mean the Ukrainian version. I would say that we have achieved everything we planned, and we were on the pace to achieve all the strategic goals.

At the same time, you’re covering the EU direction within the ministry. Am I right?

Yes.

Could you be so kind to describe more precisely, if your part of the ministry is responsible for synchronizing legal base and legislation, internal bylaws, and coordinating with the government to get closer to the EU and all the values, and membership requirements, etc?

Our part is about the single digital market. In Ukraine, there are deputy ministers for EU integration in every ministry. So, every deputy is responsible for their part.

There is no centralized ministry of EU integration, but in all the ministries, there is at least one person as a deputy minister who is responsible for EU integration.

You’re almost right. So, there are deputies with their teams in every ministry. There is no specific ministry, but we do have a Vice Prime Minister for EU integration and her office. She is coordinating all of the activities, plans, and projects which are in progress.

Tell me about the team and about the Ministry of Digital Transformation after the 24th of February. I hope the team members and their families feel safe, and I hope they are all well, including the ministry, which was identified as one of the most progressive bodies of the Ukrainian government. So, how has everything transformed?

Yes. Thanks for the question. Well, maybe it would be better, first of all, to explain more about our team. So we do have the Minister of Digital Transformation, who is also the Vice Prime Minister. He has this status because he also coordinates the activity on digital transformation that happens both on a national level in different ministries and state governmental agencies and on a regional level. Two years ago, we had a new position in the government which is called CDTO – Chief Digital Transformation Officer, and now those CDTOs are working in different state institutions. They are responsible for the digitalization of different spheres. CDTO in the Ministry of Education is responsible for the educational sphere, healthcare, infrastructure, and so on. Our minister is Vice Prime Minister because he coordinates all of the other activities. We also have a very strong team of deputies. I am honoured to be a part of this team. The majority of my colleagues and deputies came from business. They were never part of governmental agencies. They are founders of businesses and startups. I think this is one of the key successes of our ministry.

Definitely an advantage.

Yes. Every deputy is responsible for a different direction and for one goal. This makes the management more effective and more strict because you know what you are responsible for—speaking about the 24th of February. Well, I think it was shocking for everyone. You know, I was breastfeeding my two-month baby when I heard in the morning the bombs, I really didn’t realize what was happening. I understood that there might be such a scenario, but I think that no one believed till the end that it really might happen. The first calls were to the family, of course, and the second ones were to the team. Every deputy joined one team to organize a safe place, a secure place for them and their families, and also to understand how we should rearrange our work and how we should work remotely. It took a couple of days to answer all of these questions. Generally, we have been in touch all the time on the 24th and 25th of February until we’ve fixed all these issues. It’s pretty ironic, but the process of digitalization continues, even under constant bombs and missile attacks.

Vice Prime Minister, as far as I know, was personally in contact with Elon Musk and other tech giants with whom President Zelenskyy has communicated as well. We saw a few deliveries coming from a company on behalf of Mr Musk, and I’m talking about Starlink equipment, which was delivered to you a few times. How does it work? Can you share some insights about this? Our internet connection seems to be working – is it Starlink or something else?

First of all, I would say that basically, we push big tech companies to impose corporate sanctions on Russia. We do it with the help of digital technologies, like with social media like Twitter and so on. Modern war requires modern solutions. We have to block Russia in every possible way. For us now, the world is divided into black and white, and we really want everyone to understand it. We are convinced that if a business chooses to cooperate with Russia, it chooses the dark side. It automatically supports the blood death of Ukrainian children and total destruction. We expect responsible companies to support us and mostly they do it. To date, we have approached more than 500 tech companies, and this figure grows every day. Some businesses have shown significant support and position by stopping all kinds of operations in Russia and donating huge amounts to Ukrainian funds for the army or humanitarian needs. But some of the companies still try to act like a grey zone, declaring to stop business in Russia, and then it turns out that they still sell their products. Other companies try to ignore and stay silent as much as possible. But it’s really not the time to be silent today.

But they are definitely in the minority, correct?

Yes, they are in the minority. We are still working, and we won’t stop till the Russian market is empty of international business. Speaking about another question about personal connections, I’m sure you can see them all on Twitter. Both the president and our vice prime minister are communicating to the world about what we are doing and who we are communicating with. We always say thank you to our partners for the support that we receive from them. You have mentioned Starlink and Elon Musk; we really appreciate a lot their support and their donation with the Starlinks, which now are used. It is really a big help for Ukraine right now. Russia is trying to destroy our telecommunications infrastructure in order to leave the territory of Ukraine without communication, mobile coverage, without radio and television broadcasts. There are some problems with the Internet connection, mostly where the military operations are most active. Now all telecom operators and relevant state bodies have united with one goal to ensure that mobile and fixed communications remain at the highest possible quality level. I want to say that our specialists involved in rebuilding damaged infrastructure are real heroes. They do work and restore everything very quickly, even though it is very risky. Thousand of StarLink terminals operate where there are problems in remote areas. It also helps in critical infrastructures, like, for an example, hospitals and other institutions.

We talked about big tech names and international and global players. At the same time, can you tell me more about local Ukrainian companies – How are they doing today? Where do they stand?

We Ukrainians always stand together. When speaking about local companies, IT companies, big companies or SMEs, or even startups, we are working like one mechanism. Everyone helps in the way that they can. Someone can help with donations to the army, and someone can help restore the economy of Ukraine by keeping working and paying taxes, and so on. I would say that all of the Ukrainian companies are 100% pro-Ukrainian. Let’s say someone needs help; one call to any company or even not to a company, to a person, and you will get the help you need.

We can see how the government is operating daily through social networking. How has the war changed your routine? Is it constantly changing because the aims are changing, the contacts are continually changing, the list is getting bigger, sometimes smaller, with whom you should coordinate, etc.? At the same time, I want to point out how happy I am for Ukrainian solidarity, including business solidarity. My final question is – what is the main aim of MDT today?

You know, the main aim of MDT is the same as the main aim of all Ukrainians is to win the war. As soon as possible.

You will win this war.

Yes, we will win this war. We are doing everything possible and impossible to do this. That is why the plan of MDT is mainly ad hoc. So when we see the challenge, we are there. However, we do not forget about our strategic goals, and we are still trying to keep working on them—for example, internet coverage or the education process, which continues. We are still doing the projects that we planned, but we are doing them faster with the help of our partners. I’m sure that when the war ends with our victory, we will have achieved the goals that we have planned for four years.

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