In February 2022, The tech sector in Ukraine boomed. According to the IT Association of Ukraine, the country’s IT exports will triple between 2016 and 2021 to nearly $7 billion a year. The universities have long been a formidable production line for STEM talent, and thousands of these young graduates helped Ukraine become first Europe’s back office, filled with developers and designers working for international clients, and then an innovation center in its own right, with a stream of advanced startups: from deep tech and robotics to translation and AI.
The war should have put an end to that. The large-scale invasion of Russia has killed or wounded tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers, many of whom have moved from ordinary life to the front lines. Millions of people have been driven from their homes and are now scattered across Europe and beyond. Russia has shut down infrastructure, power and telecoms targets and threatens to cut Ukrainian companies off from their customers and lenders abroad.
And yet the technology sector not only survived, but thrived: By the end of 2022, Ukraine’s IT exports had grown by almost 7 percent, while 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 extraordinary resilience, defiance, courage and cooperation in Ukraine’s tech sector.
“Music is a very powerful tool.”
As a PhD candidate in quantum physics in the waning days of the Soviet Union, Andriy Dakhovskyy hid smuggled vinyl records of western rock music in his room. “I was lucky not to be caught by the KGB,” he says. “When the Soviet Union fell and you could easily go to a record store and buy Led Zeppelin, something important was missing for me. The feeling of exclusivity, of being underground.”
Dakhovskyy turned his forbidden love of rock into a career, eventually establishing Universal Music’s first office in Kiev and becoming a central figure in the development of the Ukrainian music industry in its anarchic post-Soviet revival. He brought Elton John to Ukrainian TV and produced Kiev’s first rock opera. As we drive through the center of Kiev, he points out the nightclub he ran, more or less by accident, after being convinced to invest in it by a friend in need of a loan. It is now closed, battered first by Covid, then by the war.
In 2020, Dakhovskyy launched Djooky with business partners in Ukraine and the US, based on the belief that lesser-known artists – especially those from outside America – get a raw deal on platforms like Spotify, where only a small number of high-profile musicians make good money. “The music industry is heavily, heavily monopolized and centralized,” he says. “I know the system… and I couldn’t change the system from the inside.”
Djooky is a marketplace where fans can essentially buy shares in artists, helping 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 multi-national competition that attracted artists and listeners from all over the world. The platform has 200,000 registered users, submissions from artists from over 140 countries and has held 15 successful auctions.