Warfare brings a kaleidoscope of human experiences together. Layers of lives collide in a cacophony of different versions of the same historical event. The local VR/AR cohort is one of them, as professionals found that they needed to adapt to keep their families safe. The Ukraine developer community is one of the most talented in Europe. Looksery, acquired by Snap, laid the foundations for its augmented reality platform. Augmented Pixels was acquired by Qualcomm this year to bolster its immersive tech capabilities. Kyiv is a hotbed of immersive companies that are doing great work.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drastically impacted the lives of innocent Ukrainians across the country, each dealing with their own part. Over the last few weeks, I looked into how it impacted the VR/AR community in particular, as Kyiv is a vibrant home of technical teams. Here is a small insight into their lives.
A thriving tech sector
Ukraine is the home of talented developers and IT professionals, which attracted top talent globally. The rate of growth is staggering; in 2021, the IT industry grew by 36% from $5bn to $6.8bn in exports. The number of specialists rose by 50% in just three years, to 285,000. The stats do not fully reflect the community of immersive technologies, but they showcase the strength and rapid growth of the tech scene.
What is astonishing is not just their contributions to the war effort, but also their commitment to business as usual. Of Ukraine’s IT community, 2% have joined the war effort, while a full 85% continue their job commitments. Of the number, 70% are working in safe areas, while 16% are working abroad. “All citizens of Ukraine today are trying to do their best to win the war,” said Konstantin Vasyuk, Executive Director of the Association of IT Ukraine. “Therefore, the Ukrainian IT industry remains a stable source of foreign exchange earnings in the country’s economy and helps ensure the digital security of the state.”
If the war did not come, the growth would have surely continued in the double digits. But even though the country is defending itself, the stalwart community continues to both work and defend their homes. Helping the war effort was not just confronting Russia, but also supporting the economy as it hopped to a war footing.
IT specialists in Ukraine, up 50% in just three years
The start of war
Hints of war were littered months before the invasion, which led to some early preparations. Still, when the tanks finally rolled into Ukraine, teams acted swiftly, with the priority to ensure workers were safe. But unfortunately, some team members were too late.
“My three team members in Ukraine couldn’t leave the country as of the second day of the war,” shares Olga Kravchanko. “The team, Igor Fedorovskyi from Kharkiv, Vasyl Barannik from Dnipro, and Alex Ivanickiy from Kyiv, were staying in Ukraine for the foreseeable future. I called them individually to ensure their safety, but at this point, you couldn’t be sure what is considered to be safe anymore and for how long. The first two weeks were challenging as we weren’t sure what would be the best course of action.” All of this happened as the team reported shelling near their house, worked out how to make Molotov cocktails, and hunted for PPE – not masks or gloves, but bulletproof vests and helmets. In all of this, the team asked for an extension of one project, by one week. Not one month; one week. One colleague remarked that the team has ‘balls of steel.’ The same happened with the Zugara team, where they balanced community work during the day and developer work at night without missing deadlines.
The same sentiment of ‘continuing work appeared in the MogulAR team as well. “Our team told us that they’re supporting the community all they can through volunteer work and they wanted to get back to work to provide a distraction from the harsh reality,” said Isaac Golberg, CEO of the team. It struck me that many teams are continuing their work alongside community efforts, working business as usual with additional pressure.
Other leaders supported their teams where possible. Daria Fedko, co-founder and CEO of WE/AR Studio, is working hard to keep her 27 employees safe. Though some areas in Ukraine are safer, employees in Kyiv are seeking shelter.
Xenia Vogt, Co-Founder of inAR, acted swiftly as well. “During our daily call, we took a decision to gather together as many good software engineers that had to flee their homes, and create a near-shoring team so they could keep providing for their families while they sought refuge. All of our team was united and responsive, and I am very happy that right now we became even closer to each other. Despite our workload we still spend a lot of time, moderating refugee chats in Telegram and searching for people that need our support, and sourcing near-shoring contracts for them.”
Percentage of Kyiv that has fled the city
The world has been supporting VR/AR companies in Ukraine in many different ways, from sending supplies to the country and donating finances where possible. Another type of pressure is related to Russia, where companies close their operations to starve their economy. Alex Dzuba, the Ukrainian chapter president of the VRARA, sent an open letter to its Global ED to close its Russian chapter. Alex wanted the organization to be “in line with the support policy of global organizations and to fight against the aggression of Russia.”
The same technologies can help with the war effort as well, as Daria Fedko noted. With their immersive tech expertise, teams can deploy services that can, in her words, “save time and physical resources in order to help countries protect their people.”
The efforts will continue as the war trudges on and peace talks, hopefully, bear fruit. Still, the VR/AR community of Ukraine has been ruptured; and the world stands with them to support where possible.
Musemio is creating a mobile immersive concept in support of Ukraine, and would gratefully receive any support given.
Editor, Immersive Wire
Tom Ffiske is the Editor of the Immersive Wire, a twice-weekly newsletter on the immersive industry.