“Ukraine’s technology sector was booming before the war. It still is. In 2022, despite the bombing and the blackouts, the industry grew 7 percent. That was made possible by a combination of creativity, courage and, at times, luck. And Ukrainian startups are still growing, and still expanding globally, having adapted to the new normal—’war-life balance,’ as Awesomic’s Stacy Pavlyshyna puts it.” -Peter Guest
On my first night in Kyiv the Russian military launched a volley of cruise missiles at the Ukrainian capital. None of the missiles got through, but the debris of one, shot down close to my hotel, landed in the racoon enclosure of the city zoo. The animals were reportedly given anti-anxiety meds, just in case.
The fact that (missiles aside) Kyiv felt so safe, so far from the war, by May 2023, is a miracle. When the first footage emerged of Russian armored columns rolling into Ukraine in February 2022, the received wisdom was that the Ukrainians had no chance. They were facing an army that was far larger, far better resourced. And, after decades of disinformation being pumped out by Russian proxies, many in the US and Europe—even some in Ukraine itself—believed the Kremlin’s narrative that the Ukrainian state was weak and corrupt, that the country couldn’t, and wouldn’t stand on its own.
While this war started in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, it’s been 500 days since the full-scale invasion, and WIRED decided to mark the grim milestone by looking at the roots of Ukraine’s remarkable resilience. The way that society, the military, and the government have adapted and innovated is reverberating way beyond Ukraine’s borders. It’s reshaping supply chains, recalibrating how information warfare can be fought; even redefining what a state can be, if empowered by the right technology.
In this collection, you can trace these efforts, from Ukraine’s Army of Drones to the human chains powering everyday life to the ultimate form of resistance: building their country back, stronger than ever.
PG: “One of the first things you notice when working in Ukraine is how everyone knows someone. If you need a ride, a contact, a translator, everyone is one degree of separation from someone who can fix it for you. That horizontal civil society helped keep the country in the war in the early days. Need a truck? A drone? Tourniquets? Someone can get it, and someone else can deliver it. Today, those networks are huge, starting with online fundraisers and ending, via a human chain, at the front lines.”
PG: “In a field a couple of hours’ drive out of Kyiv, through checkpoints and barricades, is a proving ground for Ukraine’s Army of Drones. The drone—not the sleek Predator of the 2000s, but the toylike commercial quadcopter—has become the defining weapon of this war. The drone corps is an innovation launched not by the military, but by the ministry of digital development, under the deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov, a digital marketer-turned-politician-turned-cyber warrior.”
PG: “At the start of the full-scale war, Ukraine’s health system was facing collapse. For the thousands of people in the country living with HIV, that could have been devastating, as they risked losing access to lifesaving drugs. As Johann Chisholm reports, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, health professionals and volunteers crossed the country, going right up to the front lines to deliver medicines.”
PG: “Defense companies are flocking to Ukraine, some of them offering Kyiv heavy discounts. They’re there partly to show what their products can do. But they’re also there for the data. As weapons become smarter, getting access to data from a real battlefront becomes critical for companies looking to refine their products. It’s something that Ukraine—which is now trying to build its own defense industry—is acutely aware of.”
PG: “You can still see the scars of the occupation all around Irpin—broken buildings and shell holes where the grass is starting to grow back. But the city is rebuilding. Ukraine isn’t waiting for the war to end before it starts its reconstruction. That effort, which could cost $1 trillion, will rely on the country’s digital infrastructure to build back stronger, more resilient, and more transparent than before.”
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Peter Guest is acting business editor at WIRED in London. Before WIRED, he was the enterprise editor at Rest of World in Singapore and features editor at Nikkei Asia in Tokyo. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, The Atlantic, GQ, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and MIT Technology Review. In 2022, he won a Society of Publishers in Asia Award for technology journalism and a Fetisov Journalism Award for contribution to civil rights. He graduated from Imperial College London with a degree in physics.