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How Ukrainian, AWS officials scrambled to save government data

On the day Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine – February 24 — AWS officials met with representatives of Ukraine’s government in their London embassy to discuss how they could help save the government’s data. 

As AWS’s Liam Maxwell, Director of Government Transformation put it on November 30: “We sketched out a plan of how to identify the parts of the state that we could help them back up. That included things like the population register, tax payment records, education records. That lunch, that single list – on paper – of applications laid the groundwork to build a strategic move to help safeguard their digital infrastructure.”

His team scrambled to spirit three “Snowballs” – rugged petabyte-scale data stores – from Dublin and then into Poland, where Ukrainian officials helped spirit them by land into the Ukrainian capital as the invasion raged. 

(AWS’s Liam Maxwell told The Stack that the cloud provider had them in the country “by Saturday”, or within 48 hours of the lunch in the London embassy that had happened on the Thursday of the Russian invasion.) 

Vice PM: “AWS saved Ukraine”

AWS Ukraine data snowball
An AWS Snowball

Artillery and airstrikes were hitting the country and concern was high in the early days of the war that Kyiv would be taken and data destroyed.

Officials moved fast to upload Ukraine’s data from government servers onto the Snowballs and then transfer them onto AWS data centres, far from the reach of Russian aggression: “What I like” said Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, “is that Russia can’t destroy the cloud.”

(Asked by The Stack at the re:Invent conference whether they were physically taken back out of the country for upload and detail on any more data migration logistics, AWS’s Liam Maxwell declined to comment, citing security reasons.)

AWS Ukraine partnership:

Ukraine’s Vice PM Mykhailo Fedorov said of the AWS Ukraine collaboration – as the two signed a new memorandum of understanding on November 30 deepening their partnership – that AWS had saved Ukraine.

Speaking through a translator at AWS’s conference in Las Vegas he said: “In Ukraine technologists are saving lives on a daily basis. AWS’s leadership made a decision that saved Ukrainian government and economy.”

He added: “This is the most technologically advanced war in human history.”

“This [AWS’s intervention] is priceless. State registers and databases: This is Critical Information Infrastructure. This is the core for operation of the economy of the tech system, banks and government overall.”

The 31-year-old former web design and advertising studio COO added: “Thank you Amazon for hosting us. Thanks once again for your investment. This is not just money and services. This is faith that you have in Ukrainians.”

He added in a packed session for press at the Vegas event: “Today’s memorandum that we are signing is to push development of cloud-tech within government agencies and businesses. We have plans for training thousands of Ukrainians in AWS products. They will be able to find new jobs and enter the IT market.”

Mykhailo Fedorov told delegates: “We want to build the most digital state in the world”, adding that the country continued to come under thousands of cyber-attacks daily but that it’s biggest challenge right now was the blackouts caused by persistent Russian airstrikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

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