Before the unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine, and long before Bucha became unrecognizable, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was implementing “Diia”. Diia is Ukrainian for “action”. It is an acronym for “derzhava i ia” which loosely translates as – “the state and I”. This remains President Zelenskyy’s solitary flagship project. It is the centrepiece of President Zelenskyy’s Mission: “The State as a Public Service”. Under his leadership, the state is no longer a shelf of pitiless stitched tomes of public laws. Diia created a digital ecosystem of public services.
A wallet for digital versions of official documents. A single window for all public services, that gives Ukrainian citizens wherever they may be in the world, access to digital documents that have the same legal legitimacy and authority as paper ones. The App has over eleven million unique users. Remarkably, at home, it is Diia that has repelled the Black Sea Fleet more than missile batteries or Challenger 2 battle tanks.
As of November 2021, some of the digital documents available on Diia include: e-signatures, e-passports, e-mortgages for internally displaced persons, e-petitions for digital-democracy, e-registration as a private entrepreneur, e-application for subsidized loans for micro and small businesses, e-push notifications on local road repairs and closures, e-baby – e-service for mothers with new-borns, e-digital driver’s licenses and replacement, e-digital vehicle registration, e-car insurance policy, e-student identification cards, e-national ID cards, e-international ID cards, e-unique tax numbers, e-Internally Displaced Persons Certificate, e-birth certificates, e-internal SARS-CoV-2 certificates, and e-international SARS-CoV-2 certificates.
Using Diia, “The State as Service”, allows even an unemployed person to register online, and to receive an allowance. The application goes to the user-selected branch of the employment centre, and the emolument is transferred into the card account under the eSupport program. Through electronic ecosystems like Diia and the devolution of authority, Ukraine has displayed incomprehensible resilience under the continuous threat of wide-ranging hybrid efforts to erase and negate its existence.
Resilience is the capacity to undergo transitions under pressure of continuous threat and to transcend any crisis while maintaining national and social and economic development. While the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 advances paradigm shifts towards decarbonisation and digital transformation, the EU is now focusing on resilience as a compass for policy. EU policies will now embrace the “collective intelligence” of its member states to anticipate threats. Strategic foresight and resilience dashboards are now part of a Better Regulation Toolbox, that support ex-ante impact assessment, and the determination of Regulatory Fitness.
Ukraine’s resilience is not in Howitzers and Bayraktar drones. It is inside an abiding sense of civic identity. Civic identity is the spine of Ukraine’s self-defence. But this identity was not forged when Melitopol fell to Russian forces. Ukraine gained independence in 1991. But since then, power remained overconcentrated in the hands of the elite. By 2014, the country was mired in venality. Oligarchs controlled political parties. Twenty years of independence made Ukraine one of the poorest countries in Europe. The futures of the young were elsewhere in Europe. The youth had to seek validation elsewhere to be of any worth at home.
But the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 that precipitated distributed governance was socially transformative. It propelled development using new methods of revenue collection and the funding of district development projects. It is a mistaken assumption, that the Revolution of Dignity happened in Kyiv alone. Dozens of cities in all regions of Ukraine challenged local administrators. That resistance was accelerated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine’s path to distributed governance which included 2020 legislation, allowed communities to self-organize into hromadas. Before the hromadas, most revenue collected went to the central government. Now, sixty per cent of local revenue remains in a hromada. This allows local authorities to invest in infrastructure and the people. Prior to this, development funding was decided in Kyiv. Now, in every hromada, Ukraine introduced participatory budgeting processes that include citizen input into spending.
Analysis of these reforms by the Kyiv School of Economics showed that the hromadas collected significantly more local taxes than they did before these changes. Local authorities now spend more on local infrastructure and have more control over what is being built in every neighbourhood. This transference of authority downwards created an upsurge of social cohesion. It transfigured competing ethnic identities from zero-sum competition into positive-sum community pride. Ukraine underwired the state by devolving power. It was a National Movement of People.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea without open military intervention localized a static low-level conflict that expanded into veiled people’s republics. This obscured Russia’s involvement in an auxiliary role. At first, Ukraine found it formidable to respond to the way Russia passionately altered perception of national identity, values and history in a hybrid conflict. The only deterrent at their disposal was not nuclear. It was digital. It was a non-violent civilian defence operation. Soon the defence in basements, foxholes, tunnels beneath salt mines, and labyrinths beneath steel mills, created “civilian pods” of Citizen Developers stretching the digital ecology of Diia. At first, it lacked any means to be part of a coherent resilience strategy. But that is no longer the case. Development is the deletion of every unfreedom. Development is dignity.