Since Russia began its advance, Mykhailo Fedorov sleeps four hours a night. "There is a lot to do - he says - and there is no time to be sad". Fedorov, 31, is Ukraine's Minister for Digital Transformation. Since February 24, the day Putin's offensive began, the young minister has found himself fighting on the front line. Fedorov does not carry a rifle, his weapon is Twitter: on the social network he asked Big Tech to leave Russia until the war is over. The Minister has sent e-mails and letters with the same appeal to thousands of other companies. “I personally signed 4,000,” he says. In many cases Fedorov has achieved his purpose: Apple, PayPal and Netflix are just some of the companies that have suspended sales and services to Russian citizens. But there is still work to be done: "We expect Cloudflare, Amazon, Microsoft and SAP to do more."
How can we define what you are doing on Twitter?
It is a cyberfront, one more tool for our army. We realized that we had to come up with a completely new strategy. Modern warfare requires modern solutions. The war of the past involves military armaments, clumsy tanks and outrageous propaganda. The new military strategy, on the other hand, must include digital solutions. In reality, the dialogue with Big Tech was already underway. Last September, together with President Zelensky, we met the CEOs of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Meta. So, after the invasion, I thought I'd go directly to the leaderships to impose sanctions on Russia.
What is it that we don't see of your work?
Twitter is the tip of the iceberg of our work. We constantly hold meetings, talk to companies on Zoom, text them, send emails, write official inquiries to technology companies, associations and government agencies. Now the world is divided into black and white. We are convinced that if you choose to cooperate with the Russian Federation, you are choosing the dark side. Automatically sustain blood, deaths of children and destruction caused by missiles. This is our message.
How many people work with you?
At the moment I don't know the exact number of people who support all of our initiatives and projects. Really. It is impossible to count. In the Ministry and in the Diia [the project for the creation of a large IT Hub in the country] we have about 650 employees. We launched an IT Army and more than 300,000 people joined. I can't say for sure the number of volunteers who help us in every way: from design to visual communications, to helping with lobbying tech companies to impose sanctions. It is an incredible support. I would say that millions of people around the world help us to win.
Hackers are also fighting for you and your country: 300,000 volunteers responded to your appeal.
Ukraine is a land of technological talent. It would be a crime not to use them. We have decided to strengthen our IT front with volunteers. Russia has been continuously attacking our government websites since 2014. In the past we have never responded, we have only defended ourselves. But starting from February 24 we are attacking too. And without hiding anything: our goals are on the IT Army chat on Telegram. The IT Army of Ukraine conducts vectors of cyber attacks and DDoS attacks on commercial companies (Gazprom, Lukoil), banks (Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank) and government sites (Russian Civil Service Portal, Kremlin, Parliament). I can tell you this: the Russians fully "enjoy" the efforts of our hackers. We are quite efficient.
You wrote a sentence on Twitter that is the symbol of the digital war in progress: "They are killing our children, we are killing their logins" [Fedorov wrote this to Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, inviting him to suspend the AppStore in Russia]. In your opinion, you can respond to bombs and bullets by banning access to apps or video games.
We are in the 21st century. Elon Musk launches rockets to colonize Mars and Putin uses rockets to destroy Ukraine. We will do everything possible, and even the impossible, to stop this unjust and bloody war. We want to use technology to do good things, not to kill children and civilians. This is our role in the war: we create peaceful ways to reach every Russian, so that he understands that war is senseless. I believe this strategy may work even better than bullets.
One of your requests for help was answered by Elon Musk. Are you still in touch?
Elon Musk has made a huge contribution to this war [with the satellite broadband connection]. We are grateful to him for that. The satellites are already working. Mostly they are used to support critical infrastructure and the military. Thousands of Starlink terminals operate where there are problems and in remote areas.
What is the state of the Net in Ukraine at present?
Russia is destroying our network: it wants to leave Ukraine without mobile coverage, radio and television broadcasts. Indeed, there are problems with the Internet connection, especially where military operations are most active. I want to say that our infrastructure specialists are real heroes. They are making repairs under enemy fire. They too die while doing their job. We know it has happened.
From a technological point of view, what can Italy do to help Ukraine?
Italians are welcome in our IT army. Italian companies, on the other hand, can become digital residents of Diia City, one of the most favorable projects in the world for the IT and creative industries, which among other things offers low taxes and protection of intellectual property. Furthermore, we will be grateful to the Italian companies if they support the sanctions against Russia without hesitation.
For many you are a hero. Do you feel that way?
I just do my job. And it only makes sense to talk about the results. Let's wait and see. Time often fixes things.
One day the war will end. Where will your work start from?
We want to become the largest IT hub in Europe. I'm pretty sure it will happen.