In February 2022, The technology sector of Ukraine was booming. According to the IT Association of Ukraine, the country’s IT exports tripled to nearly $7 billion a year between 2016 and 2021. Its universities have long been an impressive production line for STEM talent, and thousands of these young graduates have helped Ukraine become first Europe’s back office, with developers and designers working for international clients, and then an innovation hub in its own right, with dynamism from innovative startups : From deep tech and robotics to translation and AI.
The war should have ended that. Tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed or injured in the full-scale invasion of Russia, many of whom were swept away from everyday life on the front lines. Millions have been displaced from their homes and are now scattered across Europe and beyond. Russia has targeted infrastructure, shutting down power and telecom networks and threatening to cut off Ukrainian companies from their customers and supporters abroad.
And yet the tech sector has not only survived, it has thrived: by the end of 2022, Ukraine’s IT exports had grown by almost 7 percent even as the economy shrank by almost a third. These are the stories of how four startups survived, but they are just one example of the thousands of acts of exceptional resilience, defiance, bravery and collaboration in Ukraine’s tech sector.
“Music is a very powerful instrument.”
A graduate student in quantum physics, Andriy Dakhovskyy hid fake records of Western rock music in his room in the dying days of the Soviet Union. “I was lucky not to have been caught by the KGB,” he says. “When the Soviet Union fell and you could easily walk into a record store and buy Led Zeppelin, I was missing something important. The feeling of exclusivity, of being underground.”
Dakhovskyy turned his forbidden love of rock into a career, eventually founding Universal Music’s first office in Kiev and becoming a central figure in the development of Ukraine’s music industry in its anarchic post-Soviet resurgence. He brought Elton John to Ukrainian television and produced Kiev’s first rock opera. As we drive through central Kiev, he points out the nightclub he happened to open after being persuaded to invest there by a friend who needed a loan. It is now closed, first battered by Covid then war.
In 2020, Dakhovskyy launched Djooky with business partners in Ukraine and the US based on the belief that lesser-known record artists – particularly those from outside America – perform poorly on platforms like Spotify, where few top-flight musicians deserve good Money. “The music industry is highly monopolized and centralized,” he says. “I know the system… and I couldn’t change the system from within.”
Djooky is a marketplace where fans can essentially buy shares in artists to help them build a profile and capitalize on their success. When the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was canceled due to the pandemic, the company launched its own Djooky Music Awards, allowing fans to vote for their favorite song in a huge multinational competition that drew artists and listeners from around the world. The platform has 200,000 registered users, submissions from artists from more than 140 countries and has held 15 successful auctions.