This post is also available in: Japanese
A week before Russia invaded Ukraine, I received an email from two Ukrainians working for a Japanese technology company in Lviv, enquiring about the training I do, and asking for a meeting. I was aware even then of rising tensions in the region, but thought it best to respond as I would normally do, and we arranged an online meeting for the next week.
Unsurprisingly, the meeting was cancelled. When I replied to their cancellation email by asking them what we could do to help, they said “keep telling people what is happening here.” They had already grasped the importance of communication in 21st century warfare.
I have to confess I had not paid much attention to what was happening in Ukraine up until then in terms of my own business. I had been aware of the Maidan uprising and the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, especially as I knew that the brother of the Ukrainian HR manager at one of my Japanese clients had been fighting in the Ukrainian army.
I assumed Japanese investment in Ukraine would be limited, and mostly automotive related, but the contact from the Japanese technology company alerted me to the fact that there was a technology cluster in Lviv, with many IT related companies and technology start-ups. Indeed Hitachi, through their recent acquisition of American software engineering services provider GlobalLogic, turned out to have over 7,000 employees in Ukraine.
The reasons for this boom in IT related services in Ukraine become clear on reading the latest JETRO survey of Japanese companies in Europe. This showed that Japanese corporate interest in investing in digital transformation technology is second only to their interest in investing in carbon reduction technology in Europe.
37% of Japanese companies in Europe are already using digital technologies. This rises to over 50% in the case of Japanese companies in central and Eastern Europe, where it is possible to find digitally skilled employees at a lower cost than in the West.
The impact of a digitally sophisticated population is certainly being felt in the current war. Not only have Russian websites been hacked, but it seems to us in Western Europe that Ukraine is winning the social media communication war at least. In between the harrowing footage of bombing and killing, we have been in awe of the dark humour and cheerful bravery in the videos Ukrainians are sharing of their farmers removing tanks with tractors and mines with their bare hands, while still smoking a cigarette.
The communication skills of Ukrainians and in particular their President Zelensky, help Europeans, with our own memories of wars, dictators and invasions, to empathise with them. In the UK, one of our TV channels has been showing the comedy series that Zelensky appeared in, as a history teacher who was elected President. The storyline shows how he won popular support, after one of his young students filmed his passionate and swear laden anti-corruption speech on their smartphone and posted it on Facebook.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News on 13th April 2022
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