Covid crisis accelerates Ukraine’s digital revolution

COVID-19 is without doubt one of the greatest global challenges of the twenty-first century. However, this unprecedented crisis may also offer a silver lining.

With much of the world in lockdown for the past year, the pandemic has served to drive the development of online technologies and digital interaction. As a nation that was already undergoing an historical transformation before the upheavals of 2020, Ukraine has been at the forefront of this process, with recent measures designed to address coronavirus conditions serving to accelerate the country’s digital revolution.

In September 2019, Ukraine established the Ministry of Digital Transformation. As the name suggests, the main goal of the Ministry is to build a digital state. Despite the uniquely challenging circumstances of the year-and-a-half since the Ministry’s creation, we have managed to make significant progress.

Since 2019, Ukraine has become the first country in the world to introduce e-passports. We are the fourth European nation to offer digital driver’s licenses, and currently boast the fastest online business registration process in the world at just fifteen minutes. Parents of newborn babies can now process the relevant documents for their child from the comfort of their own home. All these digital solutions are innovative for Ukrainian society and are also easily transferable to other countries.

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The key goals of any government in the fight against COVID-19 are to protect the public while making sure people do not become isolated from the outside world. Given the heightened risks associated with all forms of physical contact, the transition towards online formats in every sphere of daily life has become a necessity.

This trend has dovetailed well with the existing efforts of the Ukrainian authorities. Before COVID-19, we had set ourselves the target of digitizing all public services within three years. In 2021, Ukraine will enter into what we term as “paperless mode”. In other words, if a service is not available online, this means it is not available offline. As most people tend to use smartphones more than computers, we have adopted a mobile-first approach. The goal is to create a state in a smartphone.

At the heart of this concept is the Diia portal and mobile application. Nine digital documents are already available via this app. The list includes passport, driver’s license, and other basic personal documentation. For added convenience, we have introduced the ability to share digital copies of documents directly from the app. Ukraine also leads the world in the number of online public services for children via the eMalyatko platform. Parents of newborns can access nine government services in around 20 minutes using a single application.

The coronavirus crisis has necessitated some quick thinking. Within the space of just four days in April 2020, we developed a mobile application to enable convenient self-isolation monitoring. The Vdoma app allowed anyone returning to Ukraine from COVID-19 hot spots or those who had potentially come into contact with the virus to undergo a mandatory period of self-isolation at home rather than in a medical facility.

While healthcare remains unquestionably the top priority of Ukraine’s digital response to the pandemic, we have also sought to develop digital tools that will support the business community and enable individual Ukrainians to better cope with the financial shocks of the current crisis. At the end of December, we launched a new service for self-employed Ukrainians or those whose work has suffered most from the introduction of quarantine conditions, allowing them to register online for financial assistance. Applications for payment could be made directly with the app or portal via just a few clicks. The registration process took up to five minutes, and the service featured automatic data verification. This innovation was tailored to the needs of the COVID-19 situation, but also reflects the values underpinning Ukraine’s broader digital evolution.

The pandemic conditions of the past year have helped highlight the importance of close cooperation between the public and private sectors. With this in mind, we are working hard to create a comfortable business environment in Ukraine. This includes one of the Ministry of Digital Transformation’s key projects: Diia City.

The launch of Diia City aims to take Ukraine’s IT and creative industries to a new level. It is designed to create new jobs and attract international investment. Looking ahead, the project can help drive the reloading of the entire Ukrainian economy. We plan to scale the tax model featured in Diia City and apply it to all sectors of the Ukrainian economy.

Ukraine set out on the road towards digital transformation in 2019. We remain convinced that in the years ahead, this will be the key to an efficient and expanding economy. The global pandemic has thrown up a whole host of new obstacles, but it has also served a positive function as a driver of digitization. For Ukraine, this has generated added impetus to the country’s existing digital trajectory. The task now is to maintain this momentum as we approach the post-COVID recovery period.

Mykhailo Fedorov is Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: A lady in Lviv checks her smartphone while wearing a protective mask. (Photo by Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via REUTERS)