“Defense forces and startup communities are worlds apart,” says Nataliia Kushnerska, Brave1’s project manager. “In this project, everyone gets what they need. The general staff and the Ministry of Defense get really great solutions that they can use. The Ministry of Economy gets a growing ecosystem, an industry that you can use to recover the country.”
There was one quiet spring in Kiev. Cafe crowds spill over to roadside tables. Couples walk their dogs under the flowers in the city’s large parks and botanical gardens, and teenagers use the front steps of the opera house as a skate ramp. From the distance of 500 days, the desperate, brutal defense of the capital last year has slipped into memory. What has been replaced is a strange new normal. Restaurants advertise their bunkers along with their menus. On train station platforms, men and women in uniform wait with bags and bouquets of flowers—returning from or heading to the front. During the day the skies are clear of aircraft, a strange absence for a capital city. At night, there are sirens: Mark Hamill on repeat. When I left, the counterattack had to happen every day. Here and there people dropped hints—supplies they had been asked to find, mysterious journeys to the southeast. It began in June, with Ukrainian forces advancing once again.
Victory is not guaranteed and there are many sacrifices yet to come. But now there is space – psychological, emotional and economic – to think about what comes next. Before I left Kyiv, I spoke with Tymofiy Mylovanov, a former government minister and now president of the Kyiv School of Economics, who is known for his unfiltered political analysis. I asked him why this new government had defied the expectations of many experts, who expected their anti-corruption efforts and grand plans for digitization to be established, and for them to fall apart before Russia’s onslaught. “Because people weren’t paying attention to the details,” says Mylovanov. For Fedorov, he says simply: “He is the future.”
The war has provided proof of concept not just for drones, or the tech sector, but for a government that was idealistic and unproven — and even for Ukraine, as a nation whose borders, sovereignty and identity have been undermined for decades.
Brave1 is a small way for Ukraine to look forward, to turn the disaster it is experiencing into a chance to build something new. The incubator is not located in an imposing military building with tired people, but in the Unit City technology center in Kiev, with bean bags, third-wave coffee stands and trampolines built into the courtyard. It is emblematic of the launch of the war effort, but also of how the war has become background noise in many cases. His moments are still shocking, but every day he needs to get on with business.
The struggle is always there — Fedorov still had to present his educational project in the basement, not the ballroom — but it’s integrated into the workflow. In March, Fedorov was promoted and given an expanded brief as deputy prime minister for innovation, education, science and technology. He is pushing the Diia app to new places. Now he hosts courses to help Ukrainians retrain in technology and motivational lectures from sports stars and celebrities. Ukrainians can use it to watch and vote in the Eurovision Song Contest. And they can use it to listen to emergency radio transmissions, save their evacuation documents, apply for funds if their homes are destroyed, and even report Russian troop movements to a chatbot.
Speaking as a tech worker himself, Fedorov says these are exactly the kind of life-changing, tangible products he promised to create, all incremental advances that add up to a new way of governing. Small Acts of Political Radicalism Spread on the Internet. “Government as a service”, as he says. He is making changes in the education system. He is reforming the statistical service. The boring stuff that doesn’t make headlines. Ordinary things to do alongside extraordinary ones. “The world goes on,” he says. “As Ukraine Fights for Freedom.”
This article appears in the September/October 2023 edition of WIRED UK