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Despite eight months of warfare, Ukraine’s IT industry remains open for business. Indeed, it is one of the only sectors in Ukraine registering growth, and with a resilient, committed and highly tech-savvy workforce, is ready and eager to work hand-in-hand with UK tech companies to address collective digital challenges.
That was the message delivered at an event hosted by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and the IT Ukraine Association, the heads of which signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in London in the presence of Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, a qualified computer scientist-turned-diplomat who founded one of his country’s first commercial internet service providers (ISPs) in the 1990s.
BCS chief executive Rashik Parmar said: “This is a really important moment in the partnership between the BCS and the IT Ukraine Association, not because we’re signing an MoU but [in terms of] the opportunity we’re going to try to address together.”
Parmar said there were millions of UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) crying out for IT expertise to solve some of the grand challenges faced by business leaders, such as the growth of automation, the IT skills shortage, and the existential need to rapidly decarbonise to stave off the worst impacts of climate collapse.
“A partnership with Ukraine can give those businesses access to affordable IT, connecting tech people in Ukraine and the UK to share expertise, to access technical talent in a manner that wasn’t possible before, but more importantly to take professionalism to a level it wasn’t at before,” said Parmar.
Konstantin Vasyuk, executive director of the IT Ukraine Association, said: “Over the past 25 years, the Ukrainian tech sector has made a quantum leap, starting almost from scratch.
“We have 300,000 people employed, a global tech powerhouse with strong educational foundations and one of Europe’s largest tech talent pools. Every year, 30,000 tech specialists graduate from Ukrainian universities, and the quality of the Ukrainian IT industry is reflected in global rankings – we are the number one outsourcing destination in central and eastern Europe.
“Despite the war, we are still working and still developing – our businesses are resilient and strong.”
Vasyuk said the war had brought numerous challenges and risks that could not be ignored, with the initial focus on rescuing and relocating people from parts of Ukraine that were under relentless bombardment from Russia, and then to counter the concerns of existing customers due to a lack of information, Russian propaganda, and disruption to business activities.
Ukraine’s IT companies were able to get through the initial phase of the fighting in part thanks to the flexible remote working measures many had implemented during Covid-19, but also the in-depth business continuity plans developed over years of Russian threats and attempts at destabilisation. Support from abroad has also been invaluable.
According to figures compiled by the IT Ukraine Association, Ukraine’s tech companies maintained 96% of their export volumes in March 2022, and over the course of the year have seen collective growth of 13%, with 84% maintaining over 90% of their existing contracts.
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Vasyuk said the war had helped many Ukrainian IT companies to take their businesses global, to diversify in the service of resilience, to adopt popular flexible working patterns, and to increase their expertise in niche sectors, particularly around cyber security, where Ukraine has years of front-line experience, and military and automation technology.
Some 45% of Ukrainian tech companies have relocated to some degree, with 42% partially relocating outside Ukraine – the most popular destinations in Europe being Poland, Romania, Spain, Bulgaria and Portugal.
But about 3% of Ukrainian IT professionals are now working from the UK and Alexandra Govorukha, head of global affairs at Kharkiv-headquartered Sigma Software Group, is just one among many Ukrainian IT workers who have found refuge here.
Govorukha was on a business trip outside Ukraine when the Russian invasion began on 24 February, and ultimately came to Britain because she had worked here in the past.
“We relocated almost all our people to the western part of Ukraine and to Europe, Canada and the US,” she said. “Our specialists worked from bomb shelters, from their cars while they were moving their families and pets.
“For me, it’s not heroism, it’s part of our DNA and part of our business approach. We are responsible partners and we just did what we should do. It was our job. It helped us stay sane through those days because at least we had something stable, and something to be sure about.”
Sigma itself had been working extensively to build connections between the UK and Ukraine even before Russia launched its genocidal war. Working alongside Ukraine’s embassy in London, it ran the Ukrainian pavilion at London Tech Week in 2019, last year it helped to organise a major Ukrainian trade mission to the UK, and over the weekend of 21-23 October it is running the Hack for Peace pan-European hackathon, seeking innovative solutions and tools to help address the risks of war.
“I believe in building connections between companies, organisations and people, and building reputation and trust,” said Govorukha. “Some say MoUs are not serious, but I believe that such friendships and partnerships can lead to something bigger and help us build new levels of communication between countries.”