Ukraine’s IT industry has remained remarkably stable in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Whilst many leading sectors in Ukraine have suffered significant losses, IT saw a growth in exports helped by an impressive response from businesses.
Following the start of Russia’s full-scale war, Ukraine’s largest IT company, SoftServe, kicked into action. The company employs 9,500 people in Ukraine and helped 5,600 workers relocate, including 1,700 to countries abroad. With development centres across Ukraine and seven other countries, employees were able to continue operations at a significant level.
“Thanks to effective crisis management, diversified teams and the global character of the business, the war's impact on the company hasn't been significant,” explained Volodymyr Semenyshyn, SoftServe’s president EMEA, in an exclusive interview with bne IntelliNews.
SoftServe has been able to retain most of its clients and the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures client satisfaction, remains unchanged at 80. Some 80% of Ukraine's tech enterprises retained nearly 100% of contracts, but even then SoftServe's NPS is above the industry average and it hasn't let the war affect the quality of work.
Nevertheless, the war has forced the company to postpone some important decisions and decrease investment in new innovative developments within the company. Instead, the company has looked towards expanding and growing beyond Ukraine with offices in Poland, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, and a new development centre in Romania.
“This is definitely a way for us to stabilise the business in Ukraine as well. We provide new projects for Ukrainian associates thanks to diversified teams and other development centres,” Semenyshyn said.
Part of the success of the IT industry is the ability to work remotely, allowing employees to retain their positions after moving to safer regions. Throughout the pandemic, SoftServe introduced a flexible work format and currently sees a 15-20% attendance level at its offices. During the autumn and winter blackouts caused by Russia’s attacks on energy facilities, offices became crucial for workers, and attendance skyrocketed to 50-60%.
“At that time, our offices became "points of unbreakability" for our employees, allowing them to work uninterruptedly,” Semenyshyn stated.
Last year, SoftServe saw major relocation to its offices in Western Ukraine, which has so far avoided the brunt of the war. For now, the wave of migration appears to be over, with Semenyshyn noting that 69% of employees plan to remain where they are.
The vast majority of SoftServe employees are currently based in Lviv, where the company is headquartered, with 4,600 IT specialists now working there. This is followed by Kyiv, (over 1,200), Ivano-Frankivsk (over 800) and Dnipro (over 800).
Employees also relocated to offices in Chernivtsi, Rivne and Ternopil, all in Western Ukraine. Those who opted to move abroad primarily chose Poland, with others relocating to Romania, Bulgaria, the US, the UK, Spain, Italy, Canada and Germany.
However, SoftServe’s office in Kharkiv, which has suffered heavily from Russian strikes, saw a significant decrease. Prior to the war, 1,300 IT specialists were located there, but this has dropped to 100. Although this has not had an impact on SoftServe’s operations, the city was one of Ukraine’s IT hubs and will need to attract specialists back once the war is over to ensure future investment.
Competition in Ukraine’s IT industry has increased. There was a much smaller number of open positions in the IT market last year, whilst applications remained at a similar level to 2021, resulting in the number of candidates per vacancy doubling from the previous year. Semenyshyn noted that although vacancies did not decrease, SoftServe redistributed positions from Ukraine to its development centres in other countries.
With significant growth last year, Ukraine's IT sector has contributed immensely to the state budget and IT services made up nearly half of export structure last year. Between January and September 2022, IT enterprises paid UAH48bn ($1.3bn) in taxes. In addition, companies like SoftServe continue to lease offices across Ukraine, whilst employees continue to spend money in the country, strengthening the local economy.
“We preserve our systematic investments in education and training of the future talent pool for the Ukrainian IT industry by co-operating with dozens of universities, investing in local social and educational projects, etc.,” Semenyshyn added.
As such, the Ministry of Economy included the industry in its four key sectors for Ukraine's recovery, alongside agriculture, metallurgy and military tech. Semenyshyn believes the IT sector will be “helpful at all stages” of reconstruction, as the industry has enough expertise, resources and desire to join the process.
The Ukrainian government is implementing strategies to facilitate “comfortable conditions” for IT professionals, which Semenyshyn believes will help retain tech specialists after the war. SoftServe is supporting the government on this front and is participating in initiatives such as the Diia City tax regime.
Nevertheless, as the conflict continues into 2023, the country’s economy remains unpredictable and businesses are hesitant to invest and work with countries at war. Despite SoftServe’s success in maintaining supportive global clients, the world has felt the consequences of Russia’s invasion.
“Whether the Ukrainian IT sector will continue to grow depends primarily on global processes – once the global economy stabilises and there is no threat of recession, the chances of a quick recovery of the industry will be greater,” Semenyshyn said.
But with Ukraine home to talented programmers and IT professionals, businesses are still coming to the war-torn country. Consequently the IT sector is unlikely to collapse and Ukrainian specialists will remain in high demand, which will only increase after the conflict.
“Ukraine's victory will drive the development and growth of the IT industry, the inflow of projects, and investments in this sector,” Semenyshyn stated.