Recent events in Ukraine and particularly in its capital, Kiev, have attracted the world’s attention to the country. What started as a peaceful protest — “EuroMaidan,” — against the course of the government, led to full-blown street riots with barricades, Molotov cocktails, and — the most sad and wrong part, — the first fatalities among protesters. At the time of writing, the situation remains very tense, and literally no one knows what will happen on the streets of Kiev in an hour or two.
As seen from the point of view of local tech businesses and people working in the startup infrastructure, Ukrainian revolution, as it’s widely called nowadays, already has and will have in the future controversial consequences for the industry. As it happens, this extraordinary situation has brought afloat the good and bad both in people and the government.
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For good or for ill, the IT and tech entrepreneurship industries are far from being detached from the politics, and the connections between the two worlds are already being used.
On the morning on January 24, dozens if not hundreds of people from the tech industry in Ukraine and Russia received an anonymous email (apparently written by a Russian or Ukrainian-speaking person) signed by “John Galt,” a character from Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”
The message encourages them to “ignore and ban” one of the country’s venture funds TA Venture and the IDCEE conference on the grounds of the fund’s founder and the conference’s lead organizer Viktoriya Tigipko being a wife of one of the top-ranking officials of the ruling party in Ukraine.
Amongst the Ukrainian Twitter community, a few hints were given that this is not a beginning but rather a continuation of a politically-inspired information war in the local tech industry. It’s been said that similar messages were sent out earlier in the week. Tigipko herself said to the local media that they at TA Venture “respect citizen initiatives, but not anonymous messages,” adding that “IDCEE is a non-profit project with its goal being development of Internet entrepreneurship.”
New generation of broadcasting
On the good side, Ukrainian EuroMaidan has already given a huge boost to the development of independent broadcasting media in Ukraine. Among the most noticeable projects is crowdfunded website Hromadske.TV (Ukrainian for “Citizen TV”), which started its online-only broadcasts at the very beginning of the protests.
In 2013, the project attracted more than 1.5 million Ukrainian hryvnias ($180,000) from people and foreign embassies, which allowed for video streaming from the most important places in Kiev during the clashes with riot police.
Hromadske.TV is now running a campaign at a local crowdfunding platform Big Idea trying to raise another $120,000. Meanwhile, a few other similar donation-fueled initiatives like Spilno.TV andUkrStream.TV are consistently providing the audience with up-to-date information about EuroMaidan-related developments.
The Internet under pressure
However, no good deed goes unpunished, and on January 16, Ukrainian government passed a batch of what protestors widely call “Dictatorship laws,” which may particularly stifle the freedom of speech and citizen journalism in Ukraine at the time when they are of utmost importance.
In addition to that, some of the new laws “will have an extremely negative impact on the ITC industry in Ukraine, and, without overstatement, will curtail civil rights and freedoms in Ukraine to an extent imaginable only for authoritarian regimes,” reckons attorney Dmytro Gadomsky from the Juscutum Attorneys Association that specializes in legal cases involving tech companies.
In their elaborate explanation of what the new laws are about, which was sent out before they were signed by the president, Juscutum briefly describes the part directly related to the IT industry and its consequences:
1.1. Changes to the Law of Ukraine “On Telecommunications” and related changes to the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Violations – extrajudicial shutting down of websites and mandatory licensing of ISP services;
1.2. Changes to the Criminal Code of Ukraine – Introduction of criminal liability for defamation and extremism, including posts on social networks, blogs etc.
1.3. Changes to the Criminal Code of Ukraine – protection of government-owned IT infrastructure at the expense of subjecting users to potential criminal prosecution;
1.4. Changes to the Law of Ukraine “On Information Agencies” and related changes to the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Violations – state registration of online journalism, shutting down and fines for non-compliance.
No wonder that withdrawal of the laws had quickly become one of the demands of people protesting in Kiev city center. “We hope that the above described law will be cancelled very soon,” Gadomsky concluded.
United we tent
Getting back to the good things happening to the Ukrainian tech industry in these times of struggle, it has to be mentioned that the revolution has had a uniting effect on it. A good example of it would be the project IT#Namet (Ukrainian for “IT tent”), created in December as a joint effort of people from the industry in order to help protesters with everything IT-related.
Located literally in one of the tents in the protesters’ camp, IT#Namet became the place where anyone could get advice about setting up their mobile devices, use a public laptop with Internet access, or just connect to a free Wi-Fi network to read latest news or send a message to friends and relatives.
As time passed, IT#Namet went far beyond being just a tent with free Wi-Fi and computers. Recently, a decision was made by the coordinating committee of the project to launch a larger-scale NGO “IT Community” for tech people “to participate actively in social processes and to defend their rights.”
It is also easy to predict that, whatever happens in Ukraine in the next weeks, “IT Community” won’t be the only initiative with its roots in EuroMaidan to continue after the clashes are finished. The hope is that the spirit of unity will not disappear the way it happens with the smoke from today’s barricades in the center of Ukrainian capital.
Header image credit: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images
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