Ukrainian public app finds worldwide take-up

  • May 31, 2023
  • William Payne

A software app developed in Ukraine in 2019 is being adopted by countries around the world as a resilient, cyber-secure app for public services.

Countries including Estonia, Colombia, Kosovo and Zambia, are adapting the DIIA smartphone app to service their own public service needs. The US Agency for International Development is working to promote the Ukrainian app to public agencies and governments across the world and support countries to adapt it for their own requirements.

The Ukrainian team that developed the DIIA app is now working to turn it into an open-source tool that governments and public authorities can use as the basis for their own public service apps and digital public infrastructure.

The DIIA smartphone app was released in September 2019. Within eight hours, it had gained two million users. Originally it was intended to be an easy to use government app to to do taxes, record births and marriages, and renew passports. The app’s development was part-funded by the British Government together with the US Agency for International Development.

During the Covid 19 crisis, it gained rapid uptake and was used to record infection and vaccination statuses.

Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The DIIA app found a host of new uses. It is being used to record attacks from the air, injuries and deaths, especially in remote locations, and report the presence of Russian troops to the Ukrainian military.

Ukrainians can report bombings and apply for funds for emergency support and rebuilding. It also provides a digital evacuation document that combines personal information in one place and provides easy identification at military checkpoints. The government also provides emergency aid for small businesses through the app and state-backed mortgages for military and key workers. And noticeably, it features a chatbot to report the location of Russian forces. In all, the app now houses around 120 different government services.

Two things stand out about the DIIA: how adaptable it has proved to changing needs and circumstances; and also how easy it has been for all groups in Ukrainian society to use.

The app is used by 19 million people in the country, around half the population, and it is loaded on 70% of all smartphones in Ukraine.

The app was originally intended to support the Government’s efforts to root out corruption, the legacy of the country’s Soviet dominated past and a succession of Russian supported oligarch prime ministers.

Cyber security was a high priority from the outset. The country has been a repeated target of Russian cyber attacks on its critical infrastructure, including attacks that have targeted IoT systems.

Another feature of the app has been its adaptability and ease of use. The developers looked at existing government and city apps and rejected their approach. They also looked at apps created by startups, such as WhatsApp and, and decided to follow that model.

One aspect of the app is that it aids the fight against public corruption and provides transparency in government agencies. This was one of the original intentions of the app. As a result, it has been instrumental in helping Ukraine gain repeated funding from the United States and other donors. According to Samantha Power, head of USAID, DIIA has played a crucial role in ensuring that the US Government had the confidence to keep funding Ukraine. In an interview with the Financial Times, Ms. Power said “We have given the around $15 billion cash to the Ukrainian government, and I don’t think we could have done that without DIIA, because this would have been untraceable in a prior regime… [Now] there is a digital trail going directly to bank accounts”. This traceability is aided by the app’s geolocation tools.

The success of the app is prompting Ukraine to envisage a post-war future where it breaks from its existing economic base of agriculture and heavy industry, and instead emulate the Baltic States, which are among its closest allies, and Israel in building a tech-based economic future.