In today’s unpredictable world, resilience is essential for urban future readiness. No city today understands this better than Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. Just recovering from the pandemic, Kyiv is now facing even a larger crisis: a fight for survival in the battle with Russia. Kyiv’s experience outlines how future-ready digital technologies can help cities stay resilient even during the worst disasters.
Building digital capabilities
Before the war began, Kyiv was already far along in its smart city journey, explains Victoria Itskovych, the city’s deputy CIO. The city had been implementing a wide range of smart initiatives across multiple domains, from transportation and education to health and the environment.
For citizens, perhaps the most visible initiative was the city’s smartphone app, Kyiv Digital, which offers access to an array of municipal services and information. The app has been very popular: so far, 1.8 million people have downloaded it, more than half of Kyiv’s 2.9 million inhabitants and 7 in 10 of the city’s adults.
In addition to providing access to online city services, the app furnishes information on public transport schedules and arrivals, as well as electronic ticketing. This includes buses, trolleys, and the Kyiv Metro subway system where you can use either QR-tickets or a travel card stored in the app. Users can top up their travel cards using Apple Pay or Google Pay, or connect a Masterpass wallet to save cards for future purchases.
The electronic payment system makes it easier for users of public transportation, which number over one million people a day. It also eliminates corruption, according to Itskovych. “It makes sure people’s money goes to the municipal budget,” she says, rather than having cash payments diverted by bus and trolley drivers.
Kyiv has multi-modal mobility options, including a wide network of electric vehicle charging stations and scooter share. Currently, there are seven different providers of scooters, each with its own app. “Our subsequent release of the city app will integrate all seven providers onto one form, so users can see on a map where the nearest scooter is, and the provider,” says Itskovych. The city’s highly sophisticated smart parking system likewise works through the Kyiv Digital app to track time and handle parking payments, using the phone’s location and the car’s license plate number.
To accommodate those who don’t have payment cards or a bank account, the city offers physical ways to buy transit tickets and pay for parking in special shops. However, Itskovych says, lack of access to smartphones and bank cards is not much of a problem. “On the national level, a lot of government services are now connected to a banking ID, so now everyone has one,” she says. Similarly, the government has a program to provide smartphones to older citizens and teach them how to use them.
Planning for and responding to crisis
In a move that proved to be prescient, before the war Kyiv had begun developing a municipal situation center and platform for coordinating municipality owned units, with a system that individual emergency services could use to record incidents and share information with others. “This system became handy for us during the war,” says Itskovych. Similarly, Kyiv’s citywide network of IoT sensors and more than 7,000 video surveillance cameras, which provide data for advanced video analytics, are playing a critical role in the war against Russian terrorist groups.
When Russia invaded on February 24th, 2022, Itskovych went straight to the city’s data center, where the Kyiv Digital team had been fending off cyberattacks for several days, with help from outside vendors like Cloudflare. “The municipal data center is also the monitoring center for our video surveillance system, which covers the entire city and nearby,” she says, enabling officials to see what was happening and keep law enforcement and the military informed about incursions from soldiers, tanks—and even groups of spies.
The team worked to restore online services while sealing off the data center from further attack. It also began adding functionality to Kyiv Digital, including an early warning for air-raids, which works more quickly and has a wider reach than legacy sirens. As some businesses closed and residents lined up to buy basic goods like food and medicines, the team added a function for business owners to report when they were open and had supplies. The app then plots these on a map.
The team further expanded the app to handle digital control passes for city workers that homeowners could check online, and to collect information for extension of Wi-Fi to air-raid shelters in basements and underground carparks, so that people could get vital information and communicate. “In partnership with 20 different ISP home providers, we covered 815 basement areas where people were during air alerts during the first month or so,” says Itskovych.
What lies ahead
Even amid the warfare, Kyiv has not lost sight of its future-ready goals. “One goal for 2025 is to have 60% of administrative services online, with 100% by 2030,” Itskovych notes, which is in line with overall national goals for digital transformation.
Other goals for 2030 include a sustainable, multimodal mobility system using open-loop payments, and a variety of carbon reduction targets. Petro Olenych, chief digital transformation officer for Kyiv, says that one measure under consideration is an addition to the city’s app that will give users information on their carbon footprint when planning a journey by different transportation modes.
Kyiv’s experience holds lessons for other cities. One is that urban leaders’ future-ready plans should include building capabilities to cope with disasters and emergencies into their smart technologies and systems. Real-time communications and information are key to resilience. “We have learned from this that any unrealistic scenario can become realistic, and that you have to take this into account in your disaster recovery planning,” says Itskovych. “But you have to focus on the main things that your citizens need to survive—food, medications, water, power, shelter.”
Petro adds that fitting city plans into those for the wider regional or national critical infrastructure is also crucial when considering emergency scenarios. “With that mindset, everything becomes clear—it’s not about profit generation in the first place, it’s about the well-being of citizens and how we can apply technology to help.”