May 24, 2023, 7:37am EDT

Ukraine’s secret weapon is an app. The U.S. wants to spread it.

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The Ukrainian government app Diia was developed to help citizens pay taxes, sign documents, and store their passports. It’s also transformed into a tool of war during the Russian invasion, allowing regular civilians to track Russian soldiers and report buildings destroyed by Russian strikes.

Ukraine’s 32-year-old Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov came to Washington this week to evangelize the app and pitch an American audience on Ukraine’s potential to remake itself as a future tech center, once its war with Russia has passed.

“The innovations in technology must become the foundation for our recovery,” Fedorov told a sizable crowd at an event with U.S. and Ukrainian officials at the Warner Theater on Tuesday.

The U.S. government, which provided funding support for Diia, wants to use the app as a model for other countries to digitize their government services and is putting $650,000 toward the effort. Samantha Power, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Tuesday that her staff is working with Colombia, Kosovo, and Zambia to explore collaborations on digital services like Diia. Estonia has already partnered with Ukraine’s digital ministry to develop its own app based off of Diia.

A USAID spokesperson told Semafor that the agency is in the early stages of the process and that it hopes to expand the initiative to include other nations.

“A range of countries expressed interest and are under consideration,” the spokesperson said.

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Diia, which was rolled out in 2020, is also part of the Ukrainian government’s effort to stem corruption by bringing transparency to government operations. Power said the app was critical to getting Congress to approve direct budget support for Ukraine during the war, since it provides a digital trail of where the money is going. “It would have been untraceable in a prior regime,” she said.

Officials say the app has been helpful for business, too, even amidst war. Sergiy Tsivkach, CEO of UkraineInvest, the government’s investment promotion office, told Semafor that dozens of popular public services for businesses are available on Diia and IT companies can receive a special tax status called “Diia City.” Ukraine’s tech sector has actually been thriving during the wartime.

“It is very effective in terms of improving investors’ interaction with the state system in Ukraine,” Tsivkach said.

Still, there could be real privacy and security concerns about such a powerful government app that might dissuade other countries from adopting it.

Fedorov insisted that the app was built with a focus on “maximum security,” adding that Diia doesn’t store personal information but instead interacts with other registries where the information is held.


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