'Pretty successful in our digital war against Russia,' says Ukraine Deputy PM Fedorov

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Special Arrangement

Mykhailo Fedorov, one of Ukraine's deputy prime ministers and Minister of Digital Transformation, has been exploiting the social media and digital assets to the hilt in a bid to alienate Russia which is now in the midst of an armed conflict with his country. He urged the global tech giants to severe ties with Russia which has started to feel the pinch of Western sanctions. Here the First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine explains what all digital resources are helping his besieged country to fight against the powerful Russian forces. The 31-year-old, who is his country's youngest minister, speaks to Malayala Manorama's Jikku Varghese Jacob in an exclusive online interview.

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Special Arrangement

In Russian aggression on Ukraine you have emerged as a hero who has forced the Silicon Valley to stand against Russia. This strategy is entirely different and innovative. Could you please explain why you opted for such a methodology, and how far you are successful in it?

From the very first day of the war we choose to defend our country. We have created a modern solution: digital embargo strategy against Russia; we want to block them in every possible way. I do believe that tech will win the war. We are fighting for our future, so we have to use modern methods. The harmful impact of war should be felt by not only the Russian government but also by every Russian citizen. We want them to stand up and protest against the Putin regime because he is killing not only Ukrainian children, but also the Russian economy.

We make the world support us, not them. As of now, if a company still operates in the Russian market it automatically supports blood, death and regress.

I would say we are pretty successful in our digital war strategy; all big tech businesses have already imposed their own sanctions and restrictions against Russians.

To name just a few successful cases:

Apple: Our Ministry has great direct communications with the Apple leadership. They have stopped selling its products for the Russian market and have blocked Apple Pay (e-payment) technology.

Google: It stopped Google Ad, Google Pay and Google Cloud. It has also blocked a few Russian propaganda channels like RT and Sputnik on YouTube. The company not only imposes sanctions for Russian users but also updates and provides its services to help Ukrainian people. The updates are on Google maps, Project Shield, air threat alerts, info for refugees, big donation for Warsaw office and so on.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Special Arrangement

Heard that you and your team are operating out of from an undisclosed location in Ukraine. Could you please explain what all you and your team are doing on the digital front?

We are doing everything possible and impossible to win this war. In digital sphere you have to react and adjust as quick as possible. Time and speed are the most valuable sources that will help us win. As I have mentioned earlier, a big part of our job is digital embargo and total blocking of Russia and Russians from the whole world. There is no place for bloody dictators and propaganda in the bright new future.

One more innovative tool in our arsenal: crypto. We are not afraid of using the most “fresh” technologies. Ukraine prior to the war already was among the top-5 countries in using crypto currencies. We have big plans for the virtual assets market here. We have just legalised crypto exchanges. With this swift action we are successfully engaging with the world's crypto community. There is a massive support as well as hefty donations from them. To date, the Bitcoin, Ethereum, TRON, Polkadot, Dogecoin and Solana addresses have received donations worth around $53 million. Binance donated $10 million for humanitarian needs. The support of the crypto community was not just in words, but with real actions too.

We have created a unique first in the world: IT Army. As soon as the Russian troops invaded our territory, we mobilised all our resources to resist this war and protect Ukraine in every possible way. We are working all day and all night to protect Ukraine on the cyber front. Already more than 300,000 IT enthusiasts have joined the IT Army. The cyber and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack vectors of our IT Army are directed against the digital and online resources of Russian and Belarusian business corporations, banks, and state web portals which fund the Russian army to fight against Ukrainian people. A few days ago the Russian media reported unbelievable cyber-attack hits: 50+ DDoS attacks contained over 1 TB (terabyte) capacity.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Special Arrangement

You are the only person who could influence (SpaceX founder) Elon Musk to provide Starlink for your country. How far Starlink is helping you in your connectivity needs? Also even Musk has warned to use Starlink terminals with caution. How do you respond to this?

Starlink is a great case on how social media can be helpful; a Twitter account helps to win a war. Elon Musk supports Ukraine with real actions. Right after a tweet to Elon with a request to help, Ukraine received a batch of the much-needed Starlink satellites. Also the SpaceX team adjusted equipment to the Ukrainian conditions by updating the software to reduce power consumption so that Starlink can be powered from a car's cigarette lighter. Mobile roaming is also enabled so that the phased array antenna could maintain a signal while the vehicle is moving. All this will protect critical infrastructure of Ukraine and help us to be in touch no matter what.

(Starlink is the satellite network developed by SpaceX to provide low-cost internet to remote areas.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo: Special Arrangement

We came to know that Russia has also unleashed cyber attack against Ukraine, which they have done in the past also. Powergrid attack is an example. Do you think that a cyber warfare is happening in the background?

Yes, Ukrainian government websites were under constant cyber attacks long before the actual Russian invasion (late last month). One of the biggest DDoS attack happened this January. We get used to it; we are more than ready and know how to protect our data. Earlier, we were into cyberdefense and didn't respond to the cyber attacks by Russia. As of now, we have started to act like the Russians; we also can do some harm in their cyberspace. Our IT Army is doing a great amount of work; also on our side is the world's most famous hacker group: Anonymous. With such support, we will definitely win.

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