21 March 2023

In 2018, city leaders agreed on an ambitious plan to digitise Kyiv. A twenty-one-point transformation plan was created, including everything from cyber security to big data. The Kyiv Digital app was part of this broader push to digitise, aimed specifically at increasing accessibility for citizens. To date, the app has over 2 million downloads out of a population of 3.4 million and regularly receives 4+ star ratings on Apple and Google. 

Extensive functionality of Kyiv Digital app

A brief demo of Kyiv Digital reveals an extensive range of functions. They allow citizens to organise parking “in three clicks”, find information about the nearest air raid shelter or evacuation routes, share war crime testimony and create or vote on a petition. Polovynko believes that their approach is unique in Europe. He notes that a number of other European cities have separate apps for various municipal services but not all in one place, like Kyiv Digital.

Combining everything from transport to safety and citizen participation on one app encourages buy-in. Citizen’s petitions for example, provide a simple, easy way for citizens to have their say in local government and communicate their changing needs. This is vital under wartime conditions.  Since the war broke out, the number of citizen petitions has rocketed up from around 5 to close to 100 new petitions each month.

Citizen petitions spark debate about national identity

Currently, one of the most popular is a petition by almost 6000 citizens to continue public transport services during air raid warnings. “The other day, we had more than 7 hours of air raid warnings” within a 24-hour period, explains Polovynko. Citizens would like the right to decide for themselves if they want to continue to work or take shelter. Polovynko himself voted in favour of this petition and believes it will pass.  

There are other petitions that have also gained ground since the Russian invasion last year. Some five hundred streets, public transport stations and squares in Kyiv are named after Soviet-era figures. “Now we want to change it”, says Polovynko, “we want the names of real Ukrainian people”.

The project began in April 2022 and allows citizens to click on the name of their neighbourhood in order to see which streets and squares are up for renaming. One is then able to vote on the various proposals. This project has worked to stimulate discussions about Ukrainian history and national identity in unforeseen ways, explains Polovynko. 

Ensuring the security of Kyiv Digital

Citizens are able to register on the app and receive basic services and information without authorisation. However, if they want to use the digital democracy services or pay a parking fine, for example, identification is required. Ukraine’s transition to digital ID was hastened by the war. Polovynko explains that at the start of the invasion, Russian supporters were using the information available on the app to monitor the movement of troops and civilians and spread misinformation. The digital ID helped to mitigate this problem. 

Built from scratch by their own team of information technologists, the Chief Information Officer admits that they have struggled with hacking from Russian agents since war broke out. “It is not 100% secure” he says, but they are constantly on alert. He is grateful for ongoing support from Cloudflare – a global cloud platform that has provided them with protection since war broke out and cybersecurity from Tullis. The high download rates suggest that the citizens of Kyiv trust the app and the information it provides. Interestingly, they have found similar levels of use across most age groups except for the very elderly, who still prefer to use the telephone. 

Kyiv’s Chief Information Officer, Oleg Polovynko.

The app also contains access to a participatory budget project. Started in 2021 with a budget of 200 million hryvnias (approximately 5 million euros) it was scheduled to continue in 2022 with an increased budget of 300 million hryvnias. But they were forced to cancel it due to the war. In spite of all this, Polovynko is positive about the future. “We have a lot of dreams, even before the war”, he smiles. 

Privacy concerns

Ultimately, explains the Chief Information Officer, they would like to make Kyiv a completely SMART city. A place that is highly transparent in both the creation and implementation of public services and decision-making processes. They are currently working on integrating medical services and education into the app. We discuss privacy concerns around what some may view as something of a ‘Big Brother’-style approach. 

But for Polovynko, the advantages of this approach when faced with large-scale emergencies like war, pandemics or natural disasters outweigh the costs. “It is quite hard to be in a war with a much bigger guy, so we really appreciate the support of other, civilised nations” he says. 

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