What are the prospects for the IT industry in Ukraine? How will it respond to the challenges of today? If you're interested in finding out more about what is happening with Ukraine IT — this episode is for you.

To learn more, we speak with Executive Director of the Ukraine IT association, Konstantin Vasyuk. The organization was established in 2004 to "unite the interests of business, the state and international partners for the development of the IT industry in Ukraine."

We are joined by guest co-host, Dr. David A. Bray, Distinguished Fellow with the Stimson Center, a foreign policy research institute located in Washington, DC. The conversation includes these topics:

Konstantin Vasyuk has been developing the Ukrainian IT industry as the Executive Director of the IT Ukraine Association, the largest association of the tech industry in Ukraine. Prior to heading the IT Ukraine Association, he held the position of Director of Public Projects at the IT company Itera Ukraine. For more than 5 years he had been the head of the IT committee of the European Business Association.

Dr. David A. Bray is a Distinguished Fellow with the Stimson Center. He is Principal at LeadDoAdapt Ventures and has served in a variety of leadership roles in turbulent environments, including bioterrorism preparedness and response from 2000-2005, Executive Director for a bipartisan National Commission on R&D, providing non-partisan leadership as a federal agency Senior Executive, work with the U.S. Navy and Marines on improving organizational adaptability, and with U.S. Special Operation Command’s J5 Directorate on the challenges of countering disinformation online. He has received both the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award and the National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: Lessons around leadership, lessons around resilience. Konstantin Vasyuk is the executive director of the Ukraine IT Association, and my guest co-host is David Bray, a distinguished fellow with the Stimson Center. Konstantin, tell us about the IT Ukraine Association.

Konstantin Vasyuk: IT Ukraine Association is the largest national association of IT companies, and we represent the interests of more than 77,000 IT professionals. We have been providing various additional opportunities to our members on a daily basis. But in this day and age, we contribute to the ongoing development of the industry and, of course, provide centralized support to our army and our people.

Michael Krigsman: David, it's great to talk with you. Tell us about your work at the Stimson Center.

Dr. David A. Bray: The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan think and do tank. They are one of the quieter ones in the sense that they're focusing primarily on impact.

What I'm doing there is helping them think through how everything from the future of data, the future of biology, the future of commercial space technologies is changing the world in geopolitics and, similarly, how geopolitics and changes in the world are shaping the future of technologies and data that we (as either companies or as communities) will be using in the decade ahead.

About life in Ukraine today

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, tell us about life in Ukraine right now.

Konstantin Vasyuk: The population of the territory of our motherland, we have been caught by the invasion of the Russian Federation. This is it, and it has been 48 days of continuous defending in which we have experienced great fear, anxiety, and anger. It's war.

But at the same time, this immense bravery, joy, pride, and unity we also felt. Just imagine more than 1,800 missiles have been launched into our lands. At a moment like this, we have consequences to deal with. We see people stand up for each other and keeping the country.

It's drama. It's huge drama, and we all fight on different fronts, some on the forefront, others on the cyber and tech. But at the end of the day, it's the results that count.

In this regard, we have been combatting the second world's strongest army. This wasn't just because of luck. It's brave work that everyone puts in to remain a closely merged nation. I'm saying this with emotions because no country in the world is ready to go to war with Russia, but Ukraine is fighting and fighting quite successfully, I should say.

By the way, considering the bravery Ukrainians have been showcasing their national DNA, and this is our national resource, in fact, bravery becomes our brand. This is what it means to be us today, to be Ukrainians, to be brave. This is the most little characteristics of what we have now in Ukraine.

Dr. David A. Bray: Like you said, the last 48 days have been incredibly challenging, but Ukraine has risen to the equation. At the same time, this has been something that's been brewing for a while. You had the 2014 conflict with Russia, and then there have been several things behind the scenes.

Maybe if you could tell a little bit of the arch of your industry association from 2014 onwards in terms of you've had the constant concern of Russian aggression, whether it be more overt, as it is now, or things that were done more quietly to try and disrupt Ukraine for the last several years. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how does the IT Industry Association work with what has been yearlong stresses in some respects?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We have been in the state of war for the previous eight years, by the way. Since 2014, we faced the aggression of the Russian Federation, but smaller. Let's say in smaller amounts and smaller effect.

Nevertheless, we understood that the probability and the risks still exist. Thus, most of the companies which are our members – firstly, we have a very mature business and very responsible business – they have BCP, and they realized these plans before, so they moved people. They changed some security levels of the data, storage, et cetera.

We have transferred. We just changed business processes in order to be ready for such situations. Now, it shows that this was exactly the correct approach, which, in effect, it's now in the very good condition of the industry, in general.

Michael Krigsman: Advanced business continuity, I guess that's kind of a funny way of describing a situation that's not funny at all, but you did a lot of preparation ahead of time.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Even we didn't just imagine. We couldn't imagine that it will happen, so we worked on it because now we see that something comes to reality we didn't expect at all.

Dr. David A. Bray: How do you keep morale up? I can imagine this is almost a daily bombardment. It's disruption. How do you keep the hopes up of both industry leaders and then members of the association as well?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We worked on the adjunct projects, adjunct businesses. We were quite united all the time because those decisions have been existing for 16 years, and we have acquired mature businesses, as I already told you. Now, we're in the next level of our maturity.

Michael Krigsman: What's life like for you just on a daily basis? I'm assuming you're not in the middle of fighting. But how has life changed?

Konstantin Vasyuk: It has affected all areas of life, in ways you didn't expect it would, from the first day when we hear the bombs, explosions, so your life changed in one second. And we haven't experienced anything like this, but it's just rules that you have to be ready for everything, starting from relocation.

As you probably heard, more than ten million citizens have moved internally to relatively more safe areas, including myself and my family. But that doesn't stop me from working, as usual. Kids have online lessons, as they would.

Taking even those two simple points, my working day has been prolonged, of course. Now, we work – not, of course, 24/7, but – over 20 hours a day because we are all in to support for Ukraine: the army, the citizens, and people really trying to help. We centralize the assistance as best as possible on the level of our organization, on the level of my team.

On the other hand, with kids and their online lessons, it's harder to have work calls and have a stable connection. [Laughter] Of course, I'm sure you have experienced this with COVID times.

But let's imagine your kids, while they're playing on the grass (after their classes), keeping them in because of the air raid alarm is ringing. It's a crazy sound, by the way, very depressive, and everyone should be in a shelter at this moment.

This is the general picture of our life, but we're in the most safer place. Some people are in less safe places. But more or less, the experience is the same.

One of my friends moved to Italy with their family from the suburbs of Kyiv. They lived there before. On the second day, while the plane was flying on, the child goes down on the ground and says, "It's a missile!" It was terrible.

This is daily life we adopted.

Maintaining professional communities during time of conflict

Dr. David A. Bray: I find it fascinating because, in some respects, IT is so essential for you to carry on the work wherever you are, to carry on the education wherever you are. It helps hold your people together. As you said, they've been displaced by the conflict.

Do you have stories, one or two stories, in which IT has been absolutely essential to keeping either work colleagues or communities together in the midst of this very hard time and challenging time for Ukraine?

Konstantin Vasyuk: For example, in the very beginning of the war, some of the teams were moving around the country. They were just relocating. At the same time, they should provide delivery to the customer.

They were moving in the same way. The first day of the war, they were delivering products. They were delivering software because they switched between the team.

By the way, in Ukraine, we've got a very good network connection. This is due to a fiber-optic network – a very developed, decentralized network. They just switched between team members, and they delivered the product. The customer was really shocked at how it was possible, but it was.

This is one of the cases, but the main support we have now (and before) is because, of course, the first shock you have from the understanding, but you're in another reality and you want to wake up and see that everything is okay. But it's not okay. It's the war on your land.

It's hard to describe. You shouldn't feel it, of course. But it's only your internal feeling. It's not the danger for your life. It's danger for your perception of the life.

The main support in cases with people to support each other in this situation. As one team, they're working. We work together now. We have meetings. We have tasks. We have deadlines, as in general, in usual life.

But now, we're a bit much stronger, a bit much confident, just a bit much resilient. This is maybe the result how to overcome this, but it needs time to understand.

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, at the beginning of the war, I read stories of IT workers who, during the day, were participating in war activities, essentially. Then at night, they would come home, and they would write their code, do their programming, and work with their customers and their deliverables. Is that still happening? What's the working life like right now?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Now, more or less, people understood and got the rhythm of life, rhythm of work, in order to be as much efficient as they can. If people think that he will be efficient in the army, yeah, he will go to army. If you're efficient in the coding or performing your daily work, it will be like this.

This is normal because the first days are a shock. The first days are not a typical schedule of your life. Later, it will go in the more or less normal way in terms of your schedule, in terms of your daily routine, et cetera. I think now it's quite clear that people want to be as much efficient as they can in their own place, what they can choose.

Michael Krigsman: We have an interesting question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener. Thank you, Arsalan. I always thank you for asking such excellent questions.

Arsalan says this. "How do you prepare for an invasion, and how did you convince your IT organization members to be ready for a war?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: You will be ready for the war when you have this experience at least one time. Before this, you won't be ready, really.

Customers are mostly the customers whose companies are to provide some BCP, really, because customers worry about their business. At the same time, as I've already mentioned, we have been in a state of war for the last eight years, so we taught some lessons taken from this and the basic things we have done. The combination of these (in our customers) recommendations and our experience made this general preparation.

But for the last one month, two weeks, one week to the invasion, we really didn't think that it would happen. Really, we didn't expect this.

That's why maybe, in answering this question, you will not be ready for war. Mentally, yes. [Laughter] Maybe. You should expect something. But of course, any exact actions, you will have to overcome the threat when it comes to reality.

Maintaining professional IT technology deliverables during times of conflict

Dr. David A. Bray: This is an interesting war and conflict in the sense that not only – as Konstantin said and you noted, Michael – are there people that are working 20-hour days where they may have a day job that has them doing one thing and then a night job that has them doing something different (in Ukraine) to address the conflict and to keep the continuity of business going. You also have people (either in the United States, Canada, parts of Europe) who may have a day job that is not at all obviously relating to the conflict that choose to either outside of business hours or choose time from work.

I know of people who are volunteering to either help with vetting NGOs, trying to help with logistics to get things, to support people in Ukraine, tracking Russian disinformation activities, helping with secure communications. This is something where, as a result of IT, and as a result of what Konstantin's IT Industry Association is doing, you can bring in people from overseas as well. Not to get ahead of whatever official governments are doing, but to support as volunteers in ways that they just couldn't do otherwise physically.

Michael Krigsman: You can be at war and, at the same time, these IT companies are still making their deliverables to overseas clients. I find that hard to imagine, given all the pieces that need to be in place. You need to be able to concentrate. How do you concentrate when, if you send your kids out (as Konstantin said) after school, maybe there'll be an air raid siren, or maybe actually there will be a missile attack? Then what about the infrastructure – all of that?

Konstantin Vasyuk: But one important thing that we will analyze it maybe after the war because the general situation was different, and the starting point is different for different countries.

We have some things like we have a huge territory of the country. We have a big territory of the country. We have a well-developed infrastructure, and we have BCP. We have a mature business.

We have people, very smart and creative people, and we have the experience of COVID for two years now with remote work. In combination of this, we have got some opportunity to realize a different approach and different results.

Therefore, what I'm trying to say is IT today is all-encompassing, but everyone is doing the right thing. Those who went to combat are performing their civic duty. Those helping on the cyber front are also performing their civic duty. Those who are working and keeping the economy, keeping contracts, keeping the customers' delivery, they also are performing their civic duty.

This is high motivation for us because we understand that we are doing now, at this current moment, not knowing what will happen tomorrow because you know this situation is not so simple – like it seems sometimes.

How can global IT providers help Ukraine?

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter. This is from Wayne Anderson, another regular listener who asks such great questions. Konstantin, he wants to know what are the top three needs of your members from global IT providers right now. What can global IT providers do to help your members?

Konstantin Vasyuk: The most, more or less, conditions are kept, so people, human capital we have. Safety, more or less, we have safety for data, cyber security, et cetera.

Now we have just trust and confidence from the customers to keep on with the business because I know some businesses are just considering their risks and they have projections regarding some decrease in contract value, et cetera. It's just in order to reduce the risks. But still, I hope that, after some time, they will return back because of the huge deficit and huge demand on the global market.

Just don't wait for this moment that you should return back. Just keep on doing business. Of course, we are ready to provide additional information, maybe sideways. It's maybe some meetings and proof that our business is resilient and confident and very capable to deliver services you need. This is maybe the one and main thing.

Dr. David A. Bray: You're highlighting that this is both an immediate conflict in terms of military defense – whether it be on the physical battlefield or in the cyber realm – but it's also the long-term, which is, you need your economy to continue to be robust. If anything, if your economy shrinks because nobody wants to do business with you, that is actually worse than what could happen on the battlefield.

It's sort of amplifying what you're saying. If folks continue to do business with you, if they can grow their business with you, even in the midst of all this, the fact that you have shown this skill. You have skills now that most people can't claim when it comes to ultimate IT resiliency. You have demonstrated that.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Exactly, and one important thing maybe I would like to add is that this business is supported by customers and businesses that are earning money. They spend this money for the help, for the help to the army and to the people, because thousands, millions of dollars are spent by Ukrainian IT companies or companies with development centers in Ukraine to the aim of the army, not military goods, including non-military goods, of course: medicine, humanitarian aid, et cetera.

This is possible exactly because our customers pay our bills, pay our invoices, and we deliver services. This should be kept, and this will help defend Ukraine, defend Europe, and defend the world from these crazy, really crazy people. Sorry, but what we see now, there are no words to describe this. This is important to keep business, to keep the economy in order to just fight for the peace and gain this victory finally.

Dr. David A. Bray: Can you even imagine how things would be different if you didn't have the Internet nowadays in the midst of all this?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We've got more than 5,000 Starlink equipment, sets of Starlink equipment already supplied to Ukraine. This equipment is distributed between the grid infrastructure, some government bodies, some local authorities, some critical points where it's needed for the cities which just lost Internet connections, some mobile operators, et cetera, and so we have some backup for the channels, for Internet channels. Some IT companies also have this equipment as well.

We monitor the situation and really now have not any complaints to the network connection, and we hope it will be kept. But we have also reserved channels like Starlink, and this gives us hope to continue even if some parts, some regions, temporarily will be cut off from the global fiber-optic network.

Business continuity planning in the Ukraine conflict

Michael Krigsman: In the midst of this terrible bombardment and the atrocities that we read about that normal life goes on. We're able to do this. IT companies are making their deliveries. You touched on this earlier. What kind of planning goes into ensuring that when this catastrophe happens that you're able to continue?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Exactly in this condition we have, short-term and mid-term planning. We are not speaking about some far-off horizons. But anyway, again, according to the BCP we have, we have special measures to provide reserve electricity and Internet connection.

Again, we have diversified. We have offices in other countries, so not 100% of Ukrainian developers teams from the company work in Ukraine. Of course, when we speak about small companies, small-scale companies, they have their whole stuff here, but again, they diversify people.

It's hard to imagine. I can hardly imagine that we will get a loss of Internet connection all over Ukraine. In general, we're much more optimistic regarding this because we have some double-checked things and channels, separate reserved channels, and general networks. So, we can switch to other channels in case we have some disaster.

But no one can be sure for 100% that it will not exist, but this probability can be for any country. Let's be fair. Of course, war is war, but we have quite good connections at least now. We hope it will be kept. And we don't miss the opportunity to have reserved channels for such cases.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter, a really interesting one, and this is again from Arsalan Khan who says, "This is as much a cyber and information war as a physical war. Has the government's view and use of IT changed as a result of what's going on?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: Let's talk a little about cyber because, as I just mentioned, some people went to the cyber front. It's certainly an area we have expertise in, and a lot of projects.

Maybe I will not tell you very detailed information because we are in a state of war now [laughter] but let's maybe review the parts of the cyber activities which we have because now this part of the DDoS attacks. We are down by 90% of people have computers and smartphones, and just launching an application on a laptop or even phone and you are in. But they are particularly harmful in the long-term period, and this is not so sophisticated one, but the hacking and pen testing is second level.

Basically, before the war, some people were, of course, doing this from time to time. But now, this is done by more sophisticated users, of course. They've done it very well, and the most sophisticated part, it will be internal work when the site is hacked and there's work to build some botnets, some other stuff to be particularly in and continue destroying this infrastructure information, infrastructure, et cetera. I mean that, in this, we have good expertise because even before, in previous years, we have some attacks in Ukraine, cyber-attacks.

By the way, what is interesting now and today, you know that the cyber army of the Russian Federation, which is said to be very cool and advanced and is doing, it's an illusion. It's as weak and incapable as their armed forces on the ground.

[Laughter] Now, we have revealed that it's a myth. I would like to say that we will happily share with you the details, but after the war, how we've done this and how we prove that this is an illusion of the very powerful cyber army of Russia.

But the Ukrainian cyber army is really powerful, and we're proud of it. But again, the details will come later. [Laughter]

Dr. David A. Bray: Again, not wanting to go into details, but the other dimension of what was asked in that question is you've been dealing with disinformation attacks on Ukraine since 2014, and even before then. You've gotten really good at it, and I've been very impressed at how Ukraine is very quick to sort of tamp out if Russia tries to start spreading either disinformation or tries to actually polarize your people. Is that something that you, as IT Ukraine Association, have a role of making sure there are not disinformation attacks against the IT Association, or is that another part of the Ukraine government that helps with addressing disinformation attacks as well?

Konstantin Vasyuk: From time to time, of course, we check and update our Web interfaces and sites in order not to be attacked. But in general, the business, before the war, especially, the business was much more ready for these possible attacks than government structures. But then when it occurred and happened in previous years, some measures were taken. Of course, we came to more or less a normal level of cyber security, in general.

But again, we have critical infrastructure, and we have general information portal sites. The difference, the risks are different, so maybe, generally speaking, we have more or less a normal level of cyber security and cyber defense. But now, of course, it was risen in times and, of course, we paid attention. Our members do have expertise in this area and do share it and implement it together with the government.

We clearly see the partners. We clearly see the opponents and enemies. I mean that the help from the partners' hands is very precious, and we do appreciate such help and support. That's why maybe this area, as well, can be discussed and applied as partnership support for Ukraine.

This area should be discussed with the exact government bodies and exact responsible people, not an association in this case. But in general, I suppose that it can be done and maybe already been done somewhere. In general, we are open for this, and we can speak about this, but just in general because it's very specific and strategic issues, and it should be discussed with competent people – I would like to say.

Dr. David A. Bray: As you look towards leadership traits that you're seeing be espoused (in Ukraine at the moment amongst IT leaders) what would be maybe two to three leadership traits that you're finding to be the strongest that are coming to the fore in the midst of this conflict?

Konstantin Vasyuk: It's very difficult to predict the situation in the future. But now, in our daily work, we are trying to be a platform to connect different expertise, different requests, in order to find out the solutions with the different angles. We look at the different angles on the same things.

IT people like structured business. People who work ... [indiscernible, 00:30:11] help their country by their own expertise, experience, time, or money. We're now in a constant flow of very intensive communications and collaborations. It gives us unique lessons, unique experiences, which we will hope to implement after the war as well.

Now the world is wide, the world is very fast-changing. The situation in Ukraine showed up a lot of things, unexpectable things, to the other world.

Again, as an association, we're a national association. We want to connect our members with all needed resources to keep their business. We want to connect and do this through the government, connected with the business, to keep an ongoing economy, et cetera. We are a multifunctional organization now.

What kinds of investment does Ukraine need to rebuild?

Dr. David A. Bray: The democratization of technology now allows you to have an outside influence. In some respects, you are the metaphorical David standing up against the Goliath, and you're doing so quite successfully.

I guess, as we look to the future, aside from people investing in IT Ukraine now and obviously doing business, what could also help with rebuilding? Is there anything else that you would ask for, Konstantin, if you were asking for people to help with Ukraine and recovery?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Of course, when we will come to this point, when we clearly understand that the war is finished, the bombing is finished, because we should be in a safe environment. One interesting thing is going now in the western regions, we have still buildings, coworking business centers, and other facilities for IT people as well, and for creative industries, because a lot of people moved here, and a lot of people will stay here.

Under the condition of even some risks of, let's say, missile attacks, businessmen and entrepreneurs, they build facilities. They invest right now a lot of money because, after this period of war, they will be ready to accept and to provide services for the IT companies. This is a great example of how much we're confident in our victory and how much we're confident that, after the war, we will have a fast recovery period, a very fast recovery period, and we hope for this. This is an example.

Michael Krigsman: I find it fascinating, and it makes sense that entrepreneurs continue to build despite the war. In a way, it seems like the entire country has been taken over by this spirit of unity, starting with your president. Again, it's just unbelievable.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Yes, we're proud of our president, and we're proud of our people and country as well.

We just changed for this period of time, short period of time, and we have that the best people now, the best people working on all the fronts. Of course, we're quite united and we're quite optimistic while we have such a lot of things which we should bear now, like the losses on the front, the missile attacks, the bombings, the suffering of people.

But still, we're motivated to live. We're motivated to change our country for the better, like we did before the war, because we were one of the most developing, fast-developing, countries in Europe, a country which was aiming for the new level of life, economy, et cetera. Now we have this in mind, and we are going to implement it, the IT industry, one of the industries of the new economy, because this is inspiring became we will be very fast recovering.

Again, now we're still working in these very hard conditions. It proves that we're a new economy industry.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan comes back, and he says, "Are you aware of how AI is being used given all of the data that's being collected right now?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: A couple of examples were some technologies like artificial intelligence, et cetera, were used for the military purposes, of course. Again, I will not give you a lot of details, but some applications with drones, some applications with people recognition, equipment recognition, et cetera, are now used in Ukraine.

This data, which we operate with, is also used for the military purposes to optimize some processes, to defend, to make some things secured, more secured, and to identify people, et cetera. Now it's quite applicable and useable. We use these technologies widely.

Michael Krigsman: David, as we move towards finishing up, any thoughts on what business leaders can do to protect against cyber attacks and disinformation? David, any thoughts on that?

Dr. David A. Bray: What's going on in Ukraine, what we even saw with COVID, and even beforehand, it's not a question of if these things will happen to you. They will happen to you and, in fact, they may be going on right now.

I think the first thing is, how will you know? Assume it will happen. How will you know?

The second thing is, as Konstantin demonstrated, have a short- and mid-term plan. Prepare for what you're going to do when you discover this, when you discover whether it's a disinformation attack or cybersecurity because, unfortunately, as we've seen, once the intruders are in, they're going to move very quickly once they've done recognizance or disinformation. A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its sneakers on.

Then the last thing, I think, is build alliances or connections. What Konstantin is doing with this association is there's strength in numbers.

Given we are all connected to the Internet, no organization is an island. If you actually have that strength, you can actually have greater visibility as to what might be the latest trends. Maybe it's ransomware of a certain type that's now going up. Maybe it's this sort of type of disinformation attack.

Basically, assume it's going to happen, if it hasn't already happened to you. It will happen again. Have your plans. Then ultimately, build connections through associations because we're stronger together.

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, you're going to get the last word. Any final thoughts or messages that you would like to share?

Konstantin Vasyuk: There is a need for your support to Ukraine, to our people, to our bravest people. The economy will have to be rebuilt, and that's why we ask just one thing; we propose one thing. To contribute to this by keep doing business with Ukraine, with Ukrainian businesses, companies who are very reliable and strong in this situation, and any other situations. We are partners to work with, so do business with Ukraine and together we will win.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. With that, I'm afraid we're out of time. This has been a fascinating discussion. We're so grateful to Konstantin Vasyuk. He is the executive director of Ukraine IT Association. Konstantin, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: A huge thank you to my guest co-host and good friend Dr. David Bray. David, what a fascinating discussion.

Dr. David A. Bray: It is, and quite relevant both for the immediate crisis but for IT leaders everywhere. This is the new reality of the decade ahead we're going to face. Konstantin, I look forward to when we can both break bread because things are in calmer times, but then I have imagined you have a big future in advising other organizations for the ultimate IT resiliency test. Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who asked such great questions. Now, before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter and keep you up to date, and support Ukraine. Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day, and we'll see you again next time.

Michael Krigsman: Lessons around leadership, lessons around resilience. Konstantin Vasyuk is the executive director of the Ukraine IT Association, and my guest co-host is David Bray, a distinguished fellow with the Stimson Center. Konstantin, tell us about the IT Ukraine Association.

Konstantin Vasyuk: IT Ukraine Association is the largest national association of IT companies, and we represent the interests of more than 77,000 IT professionals. We have been providing various additional opportunities to our members on a daily basis. But in this day and age, we contribute to the ongoing development of the industry and, of course, provide centralized support to our army and our people.

Michael Krigsman: David, it's great to talk with you. Tell us about your work at the Stimson Center.

Dr. David A. Bray: The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan think and do tank. They are one of the quieter ones in the sense that they're focusing primarily on impact.

What I'm doing there is helping them think through how everything from the future of data, the future of biology, the future of commercial space technologies is changing the world in geopolitics and, similarly, how geopolitics and changes in the world are shaping the future of technologies and data that we (as either companies or as communities) will be using in the decade ahead.

About life in Ukraine today

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, tell us about life in Ukraine right now.

Konstantin Vasyuk: The population of the territory of our motherland, we have been caught by the invasion of the Russian Federation. This is it, and it has been 48 days of continuous defending in which we have experienced great fear, anxiety, and anger. It's war.

But at the same time, this immense bravery, joy, pride, and unity we also felt. Just imagine more than 1,800 missiles have been launched into our lands. At a moment like this, we have consequences to deal with. We see people stand up for each other and keeping the country.

It's drama. It's huge drama, and we all fight on different fronts, some on the forefront, others on the cyber and tech. But at the end of the day, it's the results that count.

In this regard, we have been combatting the second world's strongest army. This wasn't just because of luck. It's brave work that everyone puts in to remain a closely merged nation. I'm saying this with emotions because no country in the world is ready to go to war with Russia, but Ukraine is fighting and fighting quite successfully, I should say.

By the way, considering the bravery Ukrainians have been showcasing their national DNA, and this is our national resource, in fact, bravery becomes our brand. This is what it means to be us today, to be Ukrainians, to be brave. This is the most little characteristics of what we have now in Ukraine.

Dr. David A. Bray: Like you said, the last 48 days have been incredibly challenging, but Ukraine has risen to the equation. At the same time, this has been something that's been brewing for a while. You had the 2014 conflict with Russia, and then there have been several things behind the scenes.

Maybe if you could tell a little bit of the arch of your industry association from 2014 onwards in terms of you've had the constant concern of Russian aggression, whether it be more overt, as it is now, or things that were done more quietly to try and disrupt Ukraine for the last several years. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how does the IT Industry Association work with what has been yearlong stresses in some respects?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We have been in the state of war for the previous eight years, by the way. Since 2014, we faced the aggression of the Russian Federation, but smaller. Let's say in smaller amounts and smaller effect.

Nevertheless, we understood that the probability and the risks still exist. Thus, most of the companies which are our members – firstly, we have a very mature business and very responsible business – they have BCP, and they realized these plans before, so they moved people. They changed some security levels of the data, storage, et cetera.

We have transferred. We just changed business processes in order to be ready for such situations. Now, it shows that this was exactly the correct approach, which, in effect, it's now in the very good condition of the industry, in general.

Michael Krigsman: Advanced business continuity, I guess that's kind of a funny way of describing a situation that's not funny at all, but you did a lot of preparation ahead of time.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Even we didn't just imagine. We couldn't imagine that it will happen, so we worked on it because now we see that something comes to reality we didn't expect at all.

Dr. David A. Bray: How do you keep morale up? I can imagine this is almost a daily bombardment. It's disruption. How do you keep the hopes up of both industry leaders and then members of the association as well?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We worked on the adjunct projects, adjunct businesses. We were quite united all the time because those decisions have been existing for 16 years, and we have acquired mature businesses, as I already told you. Now, we're in the next level of our maturity.

Michael Krigsman: What's life like for you just on a daily basis? I'm assuming you're not in the middle of fighting. But how has life changed?

Konstantin Vasyuk: It has affected all areas of life, in ways you didn't expect it would, from the first day when we hear the bombs, explosions, so your life changed in one second. And we haven't experienced anything like this, but it's just rules that you have to be ready for everything, starting from relocation.

As you probably heard, more than ten million citizens have moved internally to relatively more safe areas, including myself and my family. But that doesn't stop me from working, as usual. Kids have online lessons, as they would.

Taking even those two simple points, my working day has been prolonged, of course. Now, we work – not, of course, 24/7, but – over 20 hours a day because we are all in to support for Ukraine: the army, the citizens, and people really trying to help. We centralize the assistance as best as possible on the level of our organization, on the level of my team.

On the other hand, with kids and their online lessons, it's harder to have work calls and have a stable connection. [Laughter] Of course, I'm sure you have experienced this with COVID times.

But let's imagine your kids, while they're playing on the grass (after their classes), keeping them in because of the air raid alarm is ringing. It's a crazy sound, by the way, very depressive, and everyone should be in a shelter at this moment.

This is the general picture of our life, but we're in the most safer place. Some people are in less safe places. But more or less, the experience is the same.

One of my friends moved to Italy with their family from the suburbs of Kyiv. They lived there before. On the second day, while the plane was flying on, the child goes down on the ground and says, "It's a missile!" It was terrible.

This is daily life we adopted.

Maintaining professional communities during time of conflict

Dr. David A. Bray: I find it fascinating because, in some respects, IT is so essential for you to carry on the work wherever you are, to carry on the education wherever you are. It helps hold your people together. As you said, they've been displaced by the conflict.

Do you have stories, one or two stories, in which IT has been absolutely essential to keeping either work colleagues or communities together in the midst of this very hard time and challenging time for Ukraine?

Konstantin Vasyuk: For example, in the very beginning of the war, some of the teams were moving around the country. They were just relocating. At the same time, they should provide delivery to the customer.

They were moving in the same way. The first day of the war, they were delivering products. They were delivering software because they switched between the team.

By the way, in Ukraine, we've got a very good network connection. This is due to a fiber-optic network – a very developed, decentralized network. They just switched between team members, and they delivered the product. The customer was really shocked at how it was possible, but it was.

This is one of the cases, but the main support we have now (and before) is because, of course, the first shock you have from the understanding, but you're in another reality and you want to wake up and see that everything is okay. But it's not okay. It's the war on your land.

It's hard to describe. You shouldn't feel it, of course. But it's only your internal feeling. It's not the danger for your life. It's danger for your perception of the life.

The main support in cases with people to support each other in this situation. As one team, they're working. We work together now. We have meetings. We have tasks. We have deadlines, as in general, in usual life.

But now, we're a bit much stronger, a bit much confident, just a bit much resilient. This is maybe the result how to overcome this, but it needs time to understand.

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, at the beginning of the war, I read stories of IT workers who, during the day, were participating in war activities, essentially. Then at night, they would come home, and they would write their code, do their programming, and work with their customers and their deliverables. Is that still happening? What's the working life like right now?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Now, more or less, people understood and got the rhythm of life, rhythm of work, in order to be as much efficient as they can. If people think that he will be efficient in the army, yeah, he will go to army. If you're efficient in the coding or performing your daily work, it will be like this.

This is normal because the first days are a shock. The first days are not a typical schedule of your life. Later, it will go in the more or less normal way in terms of your schedule, in terms of your daily routine, et cetera. I think now it's quite clear that people want to be as much efficient as they can in their own place, what they can choose.

Michael Krigsman: We have an interesting question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener. Thank you, Arsalan. I always thank you for asking such excellent questions.

Arsalan says this. "How do you prepare for an invasion, and how did you convince your IT organization members to be ready for a war?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: You will be ready for the war when you have this experience at least one time. Before this, you won't be ready, really.

Customers are mostly the customers whose companies are to provide some BCP, really, because customers worry about their business. At the same time, as I've already mentioned, we have been in a state of war for the last eight years, so we taught some lessons taken from this and the basic things we have done. The combination of these (in our customers) recommendations and our experience made this general preparation.

But for the last one month, two weeks, one week to the invasion, we really didn't think that it would happen. Really, we didn't expect this.

That's why maybe, in answering this question, you will not be ready for war. Mentally, yes. [Laughter] Maybe. You should expect something. But of course, any exact actions, you will have to overcome the threat when it comes to reality.

Maintaining professional IT technology deliverables during times of conflict

Dr. David A. Bray: This is an interesting war and conflict in the sense that not only – as Konstantin said and you noted, Michael – are there people that are working 20-hour days where they may have a day job that has them doing one thing and then a night job that has them doing something different (in Ukraine) to address the conflict and to keep the continuity of business going. You also have people (either in the United States, Canada, parts of Europe) who may have a day job that is not at all obviously relating to the conflict that choose to either outside of business hours or choose time from work.

I know of people who are volunteering to either help with vetting NGOs, trying to help with logistics to get things, to support people in Ukraine, tracking Russian disinformation activities, helping with secure communications. This is something where, as a result of IT, and as a result of what Konstantin's IT Industry Association is doing, you can bring in people from overseas as well. Not to get ahead of whatever official governments are doing, but to support as volunteers in ways that they just couldn't do otherwise physically.

Michael Krigsman: You can be at war and, at the same time, these IT companies are still making their deliverables to overseas clients. I find that hard to imagine, given all the pieces that need to be in place. You need to be able to concentrate. How do you concentrate when, if you send your kids out (as Konstantin said) after school, maybe there'll be an air raid siren, or maybe actually there will be a missile attack? Then what about the infrastructure – all of that?

Konstantin Vasyuk: But one important thing that we will analyze it maybe after the war because the general situation was different, and the starting point is different for different countries.

We have some things like we have a huge territory of the country. We have a big territory of the country. We have a well-developed infrastructure, and we have BCP. We have a mature business.

We have people, very smart and creative people, and we have the experience of COVID for two years now with remote work. In combination of this, we have got some opportunity to realize a different approach and different results.

Therefore, what I'm trying to say is IT today is all-encompassing, but everyone is doing the right thing. Those who went to combat are performing their civic duty. Those helping on the cyber front are also performing their civic duty. Those who are working and keeping the economy, keeping contracts, keeping the customers' delivery, they also are performing their civic duty.

This is high motivation for us because we understand that we are doing now, at this current moment, not knowing what will happen tomorrow because you know this situation is not so simple – like it seems sometimes.

How can global IT providers help Ukraine?

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter. This is from Wayne Anderson, another regular listener who asks such great questions. Konstantin, he wants to know what are the top three needs of your members from global IT providers right now. What can global IT providers do to help your members?

Konstantin Vasyuk: The most, more or less, conditions are kept, so people, human capital we have. Safety, more or less, we have safety for data, cyber security, et cetera.

Now we have just trust and confidence from the customers to keep on with the business because I know some businesses are just considering their risks and they have projections regarding some decrease in contract value, et cetera. It's just in order to reduce the risks. But still, I hope that, after some time, they will return back because of the huge deficit and huge demand on the global market.

Just don't wait for this moment that you should return back. Just keep on doing business. Of course, we are ready to provide additional information, maybe sideways. It's maybe some meetings and proof that our business is resilient and confident and very capable to deliver services you need. This is maybe the one and main thing.

Dr. David A. Bray: You're highlighting that this is both an immediate conflict in terms of military defense – whether it be on the physical battlefield or in the cyber realm – but it's also the long-term, which is, you need your economy to continue to be robust. If anything, if your economy shrinks because nobody wants to do business with you, that is actually worse than what could happen on the battlefield.

It's sort of amplifying what you're saying. If folks continue to do business with you, if they can grow their business with you, even in the midst of all this, the fact that you have shown this skill. You have skills now that most people can't claim when it comes to ultimate IT resiliency. You have demonstrated that.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Exactly, and one important thing maybe I would like to add is that this business is supported by customers and businesses that are earning money. They spend this money for the help, for the help to the army and to the people, because thousands, millions of dollars are spent by Ukrainian IT companies or companies with development centers in Ukraine to the aim of the army, not military goods, including non-military goods, of course: medicine, humanitarian aid, et cetera.

This is possible exactly because our customers pay our bills, pay our invoices, and we deliver services. This should be kept, and this will help defend Ukraine, defend Europe, and defend the world from these crazy, really crazy people. Sorry, but what we see now, there are no words to describe this. This is important to keep business, to keep the economy in order to just fight for the peace and gain this victory finally.

Dr. David A. Bray: Can you even imagine how things would be different if you didn't have the Internet nowadays in the midst of all this?

Konstantin Vasyuk: We've got more than 5,000 Starlink equipment, sets of Starlink equipment already supplied to Ukraine. This equipment is distributed between the grid infrastructure, some government bodies, some local authorities, some critical points where it's needed for the cities which just lost Internet connections, some mobile operators, et cetera, and so we have some backup for the channels, for Internet channels. Some IT companies also have this equipment as well.

We monitor the situation and really now have not any complaints to the network connection, and we hope it will be kept. But we have also reserved channels like Starlink, and this gives us hope to continue even if some parts, some regions, temporarily will be cut off from the global fiber-optic network.

Business continuity planning in the Ukraine conflict

Michael Krigsman: In the midst of this terrible bombardment and the atrocities that we read about that normal life goes on. We're able to do this. IT companies are making their deliveries. You touched on this earlier. What kind of planning goes into ensuring that when this catastrophe happens that you're able to continue?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Exactly in this condition we have, short-term and mid-term planning. We are not speaking about some far-off horizons. But anyway, again, according to the BCP we have, we have special measures to provide reserve electricity and Internet connection.

Again, we have diversified. We have offices in other countries, so not 100% of Ukrainian developers teams from the company work in Ukraine. Of course, when we speak about small companies, small-scale companies, they have their whole stuff here, but again, they diversify people.

It's hard to imagine. I can hardly imagine that we will get a loss of Internet connection all over Ukraine. In general, we're much more optimistic regarding this because we have some double-checked things and channels, separate reserved channels, and general networks. So, we can switch to other channels in case we have some disaster.

But no one can be sure for 100% that it will not exist, but this probability can be for any country. Let's be fair. Of course, war is war, but we have quite good connections at least now. We hope it will be kept. And we don't miss the opportunity to have reserved channels for such cases.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter, a really interesting one, and this is again from Arsalan Khan who says, "This is as much a cyber and information war as a physical war. Has the government's view and use of IT changed as a result of what's going on?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: Let's talk a little about cyber because, as I just mentioned, some people went to the cyber front. It's certainly an area we have expertise in, and a lot of projects.

Maybe I will not tell you very detailed information because we are in a state of war now [laughter] but let's maybe review the parts of the cyber activities which we have because now this part of the DDoS attacks. We are down by 90% of people have computers and smartphones, and just launching an application on a laptop or even phone and you are in. But they are particularly harmful in the long-term period, and this is not so sophisticated one, but the hacking and pen testing is second level.

Basically, before the war, some people were, of course, doing this from time to time. But now, this is done by more sophisticated users, of course. They've done it very well, and the most sophisticated part, it will be internal work when the site is hacked and there's work to build some botnets, some other stuff to be particularly in and continue destroying this infrastructure information, infrastructure, et cetera. I mean that, in this, we have good expertise because even before, in previous years, we have some attacks in Ukraine, cyber-attacks.

By the way, what is interesting now and today, you know that the cyber army of the Russian Federation, which is said to be very cool and advanced and is doing, it's an illusion. It's as weak and incapable as their armed forces on the ground.

[Laughter] Now, we have revealed that it's a myth. I would like to say that we will happily share with you the details, but after the war, how we've done this and how we prove that this is an illusion of the very powerful cyber army of Russia.

But the Ukrainian cyber army is really powerful, and we're proud of it. But again, the details will come later. [Laughter]

Dr. David A. Bray: Again, not wanting to go into details, but the other dimension of what was asked in that question is you've been dealing with disinformation attacks on Ukraine since 2014, and even before then. You've gotten really good at it, and I've been very impressed at how Ukraine is very quick to sort of tamp out if Russia tries to start spreading either disinformation or tries to actually polarize your people. Is that something that you, as IT Ukraine Association, have a role of making sure there are not disinformation attacks against the IT Association, or is that another part of the Ukraine government that helps with addressing disinformation attacks as well?

Konstantin Vasyuk: From time to time, of course, we check and update our Web interfaces and sites in order not to be attacked. But in general, the business, before the war, especially, the business was much more ready for these possible attacks than government structures. But then when it occurred and happened in previous years, some measures were taken. Of course, we came to more or less a normal level of cyber security, in general.

But again, we have critical infrastructure, and we have general information portal sites. The difference, the risks are different, so maybe, generally speaking, we have more or less a normal level of cyber security and cyber defense. But now, of course, it was risen in times and, of course, we paid attention. Our members do have expertise in this area and do share it and implement it together with the government.

We clearly see the partners. We clearly see the opponents and enemies. I mean that the help from the partners' hands is very precious, and we do appreciate such help and support. That's why maybe this area, as well, can be discussed and applied as partnership support for Ukraine.

This area should be discussed with the exact government bodies and exact responsible people, not an association in this case. But in general, I suppose that it can be done and maybe already been done somewhere. In general, we are open for this, and we can speak about this, but just in general because it's very specific and strategic issues, and it should be discussed with competent people – I would like to say.

Dr. David A. Bray: As you look towards leadership traits that you're seeing be espoused (in Ukraine at the moment amongst IT leaders) what would be maybe two to three leadership traits that you're finding to be the strongest that are coming to the fore in the midst of this conflict?

Konstantin Vasyuk: It's very difficult to predict the situation in the future. But now, in our daily work, we are trying to be a platform to connect different expertise, different requests, in order to find out the solutions with the different angles. We look at the different angles on the same things.

IT people like structured business. People who work ... [indiscernible, 00:30:11] help their country by their own expertise, experience, time, or money. We're now in a constant flow of very intensive communications and collaborations. It gives us unique lessons, unique experiences, which we will hope to implement after the war as well.

Now the world is wide, the world is very fast-changing. The situation in Ukraine showed up a lot of things, unexpectable things, to the other world.

Again, as an association, we're a national association. We want to connect our members with all needed resources to keep their business. We want to connect and do this through the government, connected with the business, to keep an ongoing economy, et cetera. We are a multifunctional organization now.

What kinds of investment does Ukraine need to rebuild?

Dr. David A. Bray: The democratization of technology now allows you to have an outside influence. In some respects, you are the metaphorical David standing up against the Goliath, and you're doing so quite successfully.

I guess, as we look to the future, aside from people investing in IT Ukraine now and obviously doing business, what could also help with rebuilding? Is there anything else that you would ask for, Konstantin, if you were asking for people to help with Ukraine and recovery?

Konstantin Vasyuk: Of course, when we will come to this point, when we clearly understand that the war is finished, the bombing is finished, because we should be in a safe environment. One interesting thing is going now in the western regions, we have still buildings, coworking business centers, and other facilities for IT people as well, and for creative industries, because a lot of people moved here, and a lot of people will stay here.

Under the condition of even some risks of, let's say, missile attacks, businessmen and entrepreneurs, they build facilities. They invest right now a lot of money because, after this period of war, they will be ready to accept and to provide services for the IT companies. This is a great example of how much we're confident in our victory and how much we're confident that, after the war, we will have a fast recovery period, a very fast recovery period, and we hope for this. This is an example.

Michael Krigsman: I find it fascinating, and it makes sense that entrepreneurs continue to build despite the war. In a way, it seems like the entire country has been taken over by this spirit of unity, starting with your president. Again, it's just unbelievable.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Yes, we're proud of our president, and we're proud of our people and country as well.

We just changed for this period of time, short period of time, and we have that the best people now, the best people working on all the fronts. Of course, we're quite united and we're quite optimistic while we have such a lot of things which we should bear now, like the losses on the front, the missile attacks, the bombings, the suffering of people.

But still, we're motivated to live. We're motivated to change our country for the better, like we did before the war, because we were one of the most developing, fast-developing, countries in Europe, a country which was aiming for the new level of life, economy, et cetera. Now we have this in mind, and we are going to implement it, the IT industry, one of the industries of the new economy, because this is inspiring became we will be very fast recovering.

Again, now we're still working in these very hard conditions. It proves that we're a new economy industry.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan comes back, and he says, "Are you aware of how AI is being used given all of the data that's being collected right now?"

Konstantin Vasyuk: A couple of examples were some technologies like artificial intelligence, et cetera, were used for the military purposes, of course. Again, I will not give you a lot of details, but some applications with drones, some applications with people recognition, equipment recognition, et cetera, are now used in Ukraine.

This data, which we operate with, is also used for the military purposes to optimize some processes, to defend, to make some things secured, more secured, and to identify people, et cetera. Now it's quite applicable and useable. We use these technologies widely.

Michael Krigsman: David, as we move towards finishing up, any thoughts on what business leaders can do to protect against cyber attacks and disinformation? David, any thoughts on that?

Dr. David A. Bray: What's going on in Ukraine, what we even saw with COVID, and even beforehand, it's not a question of if these things will happen to you. They will happen to you and, in fact, they may be going on right now.

I think the first thing is, how will you know? Assume it will happen. How will you know?

The second thing is, as Konstantin demonstrated, have a short- and mid-term plan. Prepare for what you're going to do when you discover this, when you discover whether it's a disinformation attack or cybersecurity because, unfortunately, as we've seen, once the intruders are in, they're going to move very quickly once they've done recognizance or disinformation. A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its sneakers on.

Then the last thing, I think, is build alliances or connections. What Konstantin is doing with this association is there's strength in numbers.

Given we are all connected to the Internet, no organization is an island. If you actually have that strength, you can actually have greater visibility as to what might be the latest trends. Maybe it's ransomware of a certain type that's now going up. Maybe it's this sort of type of disinformation attack.

Basically, assume it's going to happen, if it hasn't already happened to you. It will happen again. Have your plans. Then ultimately, build connections through associations because we're stronger together.

Michael Krigsman: Konstantin, you're going to get the last word. Any final thoughts or messages that you would like to share?

Konstantin Vasyuk: There is a need for your support to Ukraine, to our people, to our bravest people. The economy will have to be rebuilt, and that's why we ask just one thing; we propose one thing. To contribute to this by keep doing business with Ukraine, with Ukrainian businesses, companies who are very reliable and strong in this situation, and any other situations. We are partners to work with, so do business with Ukraine and together we will win.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. With that, I'm afraid we're out of time. This has been a fascinating discussion. We're so grateful to Konstantin Vasyuk. He is the executive director of Ukraine IT Association. Konstantin, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Konstantin Vasyuk: Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: A huge thank you to my guest co-host and good friend Dr. David Bray. David, what a fascinating discussion.

Dr. David A. Bray: It is, and quite relevant both for the immediate crisis but for IT leaders everywhere. This is the new reality of the decade ahead we're going to face. Konstantin, I look forward to when we can both break bread because things are in calmer times, but then I have imagined you have a big future in advising other organizations for the ultimate IT resiliency test. Thank you.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who asked such great questions. Now, before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter and keep you up to date, and support Ukraine. Thanks so much, everybody. I hope you have a great day, and we'll see you again next time.