Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has helped the country bootstrap and innovate its war effort, creating a defense industry from scratch, and using his Big Tech ties to cut Russia off from the world.
For thousands of Ukrainians, Mark Hamill is the voice of the air raids. The first notice of an incoming attack is an ear-splitting whoop-whoop coming out of cell phone speakers, followed by the voice of the Star Wars actor in full Jedi Knight tones. “Air raid alert. Proceed to the nearest shelter,” he says. “Don’t be careless. Your overconfidence is your weakness.” In mid-May, following a few months of quiet in the skies over Kyiv, Russia restarted its almost nightly bombardments of cruise missiles and kamikaze drones. After a week of alerts, the novelty of “May the Force be with you” sounding asynchronously from a dozen phones in the air raid shelter wore off, and it was hard not to start blaming Hamill personally for the attacks.
The air alert app was developed by a home security company, Ajax Systems, on the second day of the war, in a process that epitomizes the scrappiness, flexibility, and back-of-the-envelope creativity that have allowed Ukraine to, at times, run its war effort like a startup, under the guidance of its 32-year-old vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov.