Military conflict in Ukraine rages on. A nationwide tragedy makes Ukrainians cast aside their differences and unite in the face of a threat to their national identity and physical existence: spontaneous communities of mutual assistance are being formed, and volunteer initiative is off the charts. However, the laws of market competition take their toll even in such a terrible situation. While bombs are falling, local Ukrainian authorities are waging their own war - a war for IT people.
Last year, IT in Ukraine was called the new locomotive of the economy. And this is not a surprise: while many sectors of the national economy are in decline, IT is growing and increasing revenue every year. In 2021 alone the volume of exports of IT services amounted to $6.8 billion, which is almost 3% of the country’s GDP. It is clear that such numbers give local authorities a reason to maintain and develop IT infrastructure in their region, because this means stable tax income. For this reason IT clusters - civil organizations that unite business, education and local authorities, have been created in Lviv, Lutsk, Cherkassy, Odessa, Kiev and other cities.
From the very beginning, clusters arose as a means of confronting spontaneous competition in the labor market. According to Oleksandr Kolb, a businessman and co-founder of the Kharkiv IT cluster, the largest in the country, this association was created in 2015 to, among other things, “retain regional business during an escalation of aggression in eastern Ukraine.” At that time, the threat to business came not only from hostilities in the neighboring Luhansk and Donetsk regions, but also from the “western regions that promised a calmer and more secure life”, thereby trying to lure IT specialists and companies to their side.
When hostilities escalated, old problems resurfaced. The military conflict led to a massive outflow of IT specialists from the crisis regions. According to a survey conducted at the end of March among 7000 workers, approximately 60% of them left their homes and moved to safer places. At the same time, only 14% went abroad, while the remaining 46% moved within the country. According to statistics, most IT specialists moved to Lviv, Zakarpattia and Ivano-Frankivsk regions. At the same time, most people fled from Kharkiv, Chernigov and Kyiv.
At the end of February, a general mobilization was announced in Ukraine. While some employees went to serve in the military voluntarily, others were faced with a threat of mandatory conscription. Many of those who moved to the western regions faced an aggressive mobilization campaign. Men were caught on the streets and handed summons to the military enlistment office, where they were then recorded as conscripts, despite certificates of unfitness and mobilization queue inconsistencies. There are reports of completely inexperienced conscripts being sent to the front line after only five days of training. One of the most notorious regions was Zakarpattia, which incidentally took in more than 35,000 IT workers, according to official estimates.
All these real and fictional cases have created an atmosphere of anxiety and panic. Those who fled out of the frying pan of enemy artillery and aircraft fell into the fire of aggressive and indiscriminate mobilization. Against this background, schemers from the Zakarpattia Regional Administration announced that “businesses that move to and work in Zakarpattia will be protected. In particular, we are creating a national IT cluster in the region and exempting all IT specialists from the military service to protect the economy of Ukraine.” The key condition for “providing protection” was the re-registration of the business in the Zakarpattia region. That is, the much-desired IT profits will go to the regional budget as taxes. It is important to note that Zakarpattia is one of the poorest regions of the country, regularly receiving subsidies from the state budget.
The reaction to such a cunning move was, to put it mildly, disapproving. The guys from the Kharkiv cluster quickly realized that their businesses are being “squeezed” from them, and strongly condemned the actions of the Zakarpattia governors, accusing them of looting. Kharkiv officials immediately took counter measures and called on their IT specialists to “work confidently for the region’s economy” and not to re-register their business elsewhere, while also promising to protect them from mobilization. However, it has soon become clear that neither Zakarpattia (as well as other regions) officials nor the business could give any guarantee of protection against mobilization. At best, they can form lists of those recommended for exemption from conscription, which, after going through seven circles of bureaucratic hell, might end up in the Ministry of Defense, where they can be approved… or not approved. At the same time, workers with critically important military specialties, such as snipers, tank operators, artillerymen, and so on, cannot be exempted from conscription on any grounds. Speaking of unreliable promises.
Zakarpattia authorities quickly denied everything: “We don’t move someone to us by force or make them do it and we are totally cool if someone doesn’t want to move. It’s an absolutely free choice”. Free competition, nothing personal. Which, of course, is absurd, given the military situation in the country as a whole and attitude towards military conscription in Zakarpattia in particular.
The actions of Zakarpattia officials can be called looting, it should be clear that their reasons are rooted not only in the personal shortcomings, but also in the nature of market competition in general: to squeeze maximum profit for yourself out of any situation, even if your country is at war. While local authorities cannot divide IT specialists among themselves, state authorities are playing big on the sly: adopting a new labor code that will allow employees to be fired in one day without explanatory reasons. Therefore, while some are dying under bullets and shells or fleeing from destroyed cities, others are counting possible gains. This situation can be reversed only by increasing the political activity of ordinary IT specialists, who will unite and defend their interests in an organized manner in the face of big business and the state.
Unionization is the first step towards an active civil society.