While armies, and those who wage war, tend to be male, everyone living in besieged cities or the residential areas being targeted is a victim of Russian aggression. For International Women’s Day, TFN spoke to Ukrainian women in tech, to find out how they are responding to the war, and how they would like the rest of the world to help.
Wherever they were based, everyone we spoke to highlighted the immediacy of war. Anastasiia Smyk, cofounder of InputSoft — which supports airport operations — was participating in a Techstars acceleration programme in Turin and had returned to Ukraine for some meetings. Due to return to Italy on 24 February, her plans changed abruptly: “we woke at 5am to the sound of explosions and fighter planed overhead. We realised that the war had begun.”
And Kateryna Dobrynina, COO of virtual fitting solution Astrafit, apologised if the interview was a little chaotic, explaining, “I am in the basement because we expect them to start bombing us again at any moment.”
Even those further away could not escape. Dr Katerina Spranger lives in London, where she’s the founder and CEO of oxfordheartbeat.com, but has family and friends in Ukraine. A message from her brother woke her at 3:49am to tell her the invasion had begun. “Since then, both my family’s and my world have turned upside down,” she explained. “Every day, it has been heartbreaking to wake up to the ceaseless atrocities inflicted on a free country.”
The role of tech in war
All the women highlighted the importance of tech in defending Ukraine, and the ways it can make a difference. Smyk even said it “has its own separate front, we can defend our sovereignty on the expanses of the internet as well.”
Spranger told us of the potential for tech to play a role in the defence of Ukraine, calling for tech companies to terminate their relationships with Russia, saying the result would have a direct impact on the war. “Some of the most lucrative sectors of the Russian economy, such as the oil industry, won’t be able to function and will grind to a halt, with war resources and operations taking a hit as a result.”
However, the tech industry still needs support. Anna Dziuba, VP of Delivery at tech outsourcing company Relevant Software, is based in western Ukraine, calling herself one of the ‘lucky ones’ because she is not waking to bombing. “If Putin’s goal is to destroy our economy, then it is our goal not to let that happen,” she says. “We urge foreign partners to stay and continue their cooperation with us.” She also praised those tech firms offering practical support to each other, for example Kyiv-based MacPaw which is providing free VPN to protect communication.
Ukraine’s unity in the face of aggression was apparent, as was the blurring of lines between work and private life as both turn towards the defence of the nation.
Dobrynina said that when Putin invaded, “the entire population of Ukraine became strong, resilient and united.” As a CEO, she was supporting her staff, helping raise money to ensure they and their families are safe. But that work continued outside work, too. “My family and I own a small farm near Kyiv,” she explained, “so now we are all working on that to help people with food.”
Smyk also mentioned how invasion had unified them. “At the first blast sounds, I did not have thoughts of escape. I had thoughts of how to keep our team and their families safe and secure, and how to help the Ukrainian people.” In the early days of the invasion, Ukraine’s developer community were busy developing apps to help Ukrainians, by providing warnings of attacks or advice and updates.
Further afield, Spranger has joined with other Ukrainian expats to launch ActForUkraine. The initiative encourages business leaders to show solidarity with Ukraine. “We ask leaders to lead by example, and employees to put pressure on their companies to act decisively: condemn the war, enforce economic isolation on Russia, push hard for sanctions and provide humanitarian support.”
What do they want the rest of the world to do
All the women we spoke to wanted to see a no-fly zone enforced above Ukraine, something that other nations have refused to for fear of provoking further conflict.
They were also united on the need for harsh, meaningful, and lasting sanctions and a boycott of Russian business. “It is imperative for the business world to participate in a total boycott of Russian industry and banks,” said Spranger. “This will drive home the impact of the sanctions currently in place, while shielding against possible loopholes that sabotage their efficiency.”
Dziuba underlined the importance of this: “It is not politics; the money of the Russian economy is being spent on the war.”
Perhaps most of all they want to make sure Ukraine is not forgotten, “we need the support of the world’s community,” says Dobrynina, “of everyone who can help stop the Putin regime, and open the eyes of the zombified population of Russia. Take to the streets, demand support from your states, donate to Ukraine’s army, spread truthful information about what the Ukrainian people are going through now.”
And for all them, it is not just about helping their home nation. “Action needs to be swift,” says Spranger. “If we don’t help Ukraine now, the rest of the world will not be safe.”
How you can help?
If you want to help, you can donate money through the Ukrainian embassy (although official Ukrainian sites appear to be subject to frequent DDoS attacks). Alternatively, a number of British and international charities are accepting donations for Ukraine.
The British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal is raising funds to provide practical support for those affected, like food, clothing, first aid and shelter.
The UN Refugee Agency accepts donations that will fund the emergency shelter, relief items and practical support.
UNICEF has been raising funds since 2014 to support Ukrainian children affected by conflict in the disputed areas.
For more TFN coverage on #StandwithUkraine, you can follow this page.