Ukraine Mobilizes Volunteer ‘IT Army’, Crypto Community At War With Russia

Ukraine’s leaders are sourcing power from a volunteer ‘IT army’, raising funds through cryptocurrency donations and using public appeals on social media to garner global attention as they battle a adversary adept at line attacks.

The country’s new digital tactics are part of a “sur [the] fly” to respond to the Russian invasion that changed Ukrainian life overnight, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation Alex Bornyakov told The Hill.

“Until the last moment, we didn’t think this was going to be a full-scale war,” he said.

“Even on the eve of the war, we were just living normal life and planning meetings, planning our actions – just like normal life. And once that started, we realized we had to act completely differently than before, he added.

Like so many others, Bornyakov said he was woken up early in the morning three weeks ago by the sounds of explosions. Two days after the first attacks, he was evacuated from Kyiv to a safer place in Ukraine.

From that first day, there was an outpouring of Ukrainians asking how they could help the digital ministry’s efforts, he said.

“It was their country they wanted to help. They want to defend their homeland,” he said.

The ministry channeled the enthusiasm of the volunteers to create the IT Army, which today numbers more than 300,000 people.

Volunteers are given different tasks and communicate through Telegram, a platform that provides end-to-end encryption messaging.

“It’s a perfect example of how important encryption is,” said Alexandra Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“Encryption has been under attack in the United States and around the world for some time. It is in the crosshairs of public policy debates. And this moment, I think, will really help illustrate the circumstances in which secure communications are really, really, really important, and I hope to educate decision makers to be more aware of that fact,” she added.

This helps provide a means to bring outside information into Russia as the Kremlin cracks down on news media sites and social media platforms.

For example, The New York Times this week launched a dedicated channel on Telegram to provide war reporting from its ongoing live blog.

Making news media accessible to Russian civilians outside of Russian state-controlled outlets is also part of the IT army’s goal, Bornyakov said.

“We are working hard to promote the truth among Russians in every way possible on the internet so that they don’t live in this bubble, so that they understand what is really going on. Because they’re really in this bubble and they’re fed this propaganda that we’re fascists or some kind of really bad people who deserve to die, but that’s not true,” he said. declared.

Ukraine is also leveraging its stature within the global cryptocurrency community to raise funds for humanitarian aid programs and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The Ministry of Digital Transformation has raised over $54 million through cryptocurrency, according to the official fundraising website.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to help with crypto because in Ukraine there is a strong blockchain community,” Bornyakov said.

“And today, crypto plays a vital role in Ukraine’s defense,” he added.

To continue its fundraising efforts via blockchain technology, the Ukrainian government will launch non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, of war. Each NFT will include a short story from a “trusted source” and an artwork, Bornyakov said.

Proceeds from NFTs will go towards the same funds to support humanitarian and military efforts.

The ministry and Ukrainian leaders in general are also using more mainstream social media platforms to raise awareness and ask for support.

Social media has been used for about a decade to show the destruction in war-torn areas, but the way leaders “directly mobilize social media as a tool” marks a difference from how the power of platforms has been used in the past, Givens mentioned.

“The fact that [President Volodymyr] Zelensky broadcasts every day, using his cell phone to capture video of himself and rally the troops in this way – and doing so with a global audience in mind, not just his domestic audience in mind…. [feels] newer instead of just capturing the devastation,” she said.

Ukrainian leaders use Twitter to contact tech companies directly. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, SpaceX CEO tweeted Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley – Meta faces fine for privacy breach in Ireland Tesla raises prices twice a week due to rising costs Elon Musk challenges Putin on Twitter to ‘one fight’ for Ukraine MORE asking him to provide Ukraine with Starlink satellite internet stations to “invite sane Russians to stand up”.

Musk followed by sending stations and Federov tweeted showing they had arrived.

“At this point in the conflict, they’re using every strategy they can to try to get people’s attention and build support, and doing that in a way that’s relatively transparent, relatable, and accessible, I think, raises attention. of the world on these efforts,” said Givens.

Bornyakov said the work done on the digital front cannot be compared to combat on the battlefield, but has become more important as a tool to counter Russian disinformation and cyberattacks.

“If we lose the support of the media, we will lose the support of our people,” he said.

“They were trying to convince us that our government is incompetent and that we shouldn’t trust it. They failed,” he added.

“And this is thanks to the efforts of the media and showing what is really happening. Without this, there would be no support from ordinary citizens of Ukraine. And then they can just walk into any city and without any struggle, and just keeping them busy, so it’s very important that people know what’s really going on.

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