Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Washington, DC

ANDREA MITCHELL: With nearly six million Ukrainians displaced inside Ukraine, one public service app has become a crucial lifeline. It's called Diia, that's Ukrainian for “action.” And thanks to a $25 million U.S. investment, nearly half of Ukraine's population is actively now using the app to track Russian troops, report damage from Russian strikes, and secure loans to fix it. 

The app also houses passports, allows Ukrainians to access social aid, and more than 100 other crucial services, helping lead the effort is USAID Administrator and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and Ukraine's Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov. Both joined me Tuesday with the help of a translator for an exclusive interview after they did a public rollout here in Washington. 

Thank you both for being here. So Minister, this is just an extraordinary app you helped design it, create it – the technological advances in Ukraine have really stunned the world and really impressed the world. Tell us about it.

VICE PRIME MINISTER MYKHAILO FEDOROV: First of all, we have a big ambitious mission to create Ukraine as the most convenient country in terms of public services. 

And we have a big potential for it, because in Ukraine now 300,000 IT specialists, and we have a political will to implement new transformation decisions to transform our country, and Diia is answer for how we can build the most convenient country in the world. And we launched 100 services, we became the first country in the world who legalized and launched an electronic passport. And now in Washington, we presented the opportunities of our digital country. 

MS. MITCHELL: It's just extraordinary. Administrator Power – Ambassador Power. So, USAID helped fund this $25 million as sort of a startup. But what Ukraine has done. I mean, we first saw it in the days of the invasion, which was, you know, basically stopping the cyber attacks in their tracks, which everyone had expected Russia to have such a great advantage.

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: It is really hard to find words to describe the technological sophistication of Ukrainian young people – we have a 32 year-old Deputy Prime Minister here beside me – of the tech specialists that Mykhailo mentioned. Diia was a gleam in someone's eye just in 2019. And here we are just four years later, a massive full-scale invasion later, and you have more than 120 services available to citizens. And they've adapted in wartime so skillfully. So now, internally displaced people who would have had to wait in line and maybe outside, you know, lining up for blocks to get access to payments, they just do it with one click on the phone. 

Mykhailo’s neighborhood was bombed last night as it happens. And he was showing me photos of a couple of the buildings in his neighborhood that had bomb damage at the top. What will happen later today, if it hasn't already, somebody will go and they will take a photo of the bomb damage, upload it and very soon they will get an assessment of how much that damage is, and after that they will, with their phone, be able to then apply for compensation or for material support to fix the damage. It has just become a one-stop-shop. 

And it was Zelenskyy’s vision in 2019 to create the State in a Smartphone or a state in an app. And miraculously, the war hasn't slowed that progress down, it’s accelerated the progress. The other aspect of it Mykhailo talked about convenience, which I think citizens' experience of government is so much about, “is government making my life simpler and more convenient, or is it making it harder?” And this app is something that I think the President in Ukraine has used to enhance the State's legitimacy, which of course is up anyway because of the invasion. But nonetheless, this is about democracy delivering in the lives of citizens, which is something President Biden talks a lot about as well. 

MS. MITCHELL: How do you stop the Russians from being able to access some of these damage assessments and troop assessments that you're able to transmit through the app?

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: Because cybersecurity is fundamental of our successful history because.

MS. MITCHELL: Cybersecurity is fundamental to the success of your whole history because of where you live. 

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: Yes, cybersecurity is the foundation of our product because we support the approach cybersecurity by design. Diia doesn't save data. Diia is a platform which connects the different registers.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: So the vulnerability, the vulnerability, that you would have if the government was storing all the data, the vulnerability to hackers, but also privacy and surveillance concerns, they have addressed as a design feature by creating the platform, but not itself, not the government itself, storing the data. But at the same time, Mykhailo wears another hat not just creating Diia, which is to work on cybersecurity protection across all ministries. And that is, as you say, that is the dog that is not barking in this war. Putin has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in trying to take down Ukrainian government functionality through cyber attacks. And they have withstood those attacks just like they've withstood conventional weapons attacks.

MS. MITCHELL: What is the future here? As you develop these technologies? Are the students who are coming up in Ukraine conversant with – they are able to do all of these things?

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: Yes, of course. Now, we share our expertise with other countries. For example, Estonia will launch their government app on the basis of Diia.

MS. MITCHELL: Estonia?


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The number one e-governance country in the world.

VICE PRIME MINISTER FEDOROV: In two weeks. And it's good proof of our products.

MS. MITCHELL: So another export from Ukraine in the middle of a war.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I was – you can see on his jacket, you know, the Ukrainian flag is Ukrainian wheat and the Ukrainian sky. And that is symbolic of how much Ukraine has shipped to the world, of course, as the breadbasket. But now it is becoming known for its tech and the fact that Estonia, which is the stuff of legend for its e-governance, is turning to Ukraine to get access to its code and its software. And USAID is now working with the Ukrainian government to look at other developing countries in Africa and beyond that could use this kind of digital infrastructure, including the cybersecurity protection.

MS. MITCHELL: Minister Fedorov, thank you so much. It's such a treat to meet you and to learn all about this. And Ambassador Power, this is just another way that USAID is expanding its reach throughout the world under you. Thank you. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Andrea. 

MS. MITCHELL: And thank you very much. That's it for this edition of Andrea Mitchell Reports.

Share This Page