Live from Lviv: IT Arena 2022

October 28, 2022
IT Arena 2022 Featured image

Since 2014, Lviv’s IT Arena conference has been the place where international researchers, developers, hackers, engineers, startups, and investors have met their Ukrainian counterparts. This year, there were also a few soldiers and spies.

From Sep 30 to Oct 1, in the shadow of war, nearly 1000 attendees (less than 20% of last year‘s total) braved curfews and air raid sirens to support Ukraine and attend IT Arena 2022, in Lviv, at the foot of the Carpathian mountains.

Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Even in wartime, Lviv is more beautiful and inspiring than ever. IT Arena 2022 was held in Lviv’s opera house, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every day, conference attendees were reminded that Ukraine has both the past and the future on its side. And of course, when the IT conference was over, I stayed for a magnificent ballet performance.

Wartime Focus

International crises like the Russian invasion of Ukraine serve to remind us of the paramount importance of the safety and security of our families and communities. In our smaller information security space, this war has also offered examples of the most extreme digital threats, including cyber-enabled espionage, warfare, and terrorism.

Ukraine is defending its borders on the traditional battlefield — and also in cyberspace. Therefore, hot topics at IT Arena 2022 included military cyber tools and tactics, how Ukraine’s tech industry is supporting the war effort, and the future of national security-related information technology. Many of the conference's sponsors and startup competition entrants showcased products and services related to drones, medical treatment, and civil education.

Security First

Of course, during wartime, there were some changes at this year’s IT Arena. First of all, in Lviv, there was a curfew. Everyone had to be off the streets between 23:00 and 05:00. Naturally, this meant that conference attendees, after singing the Ukrainian national anthem at about 22:30 in one of Lviv’s gorgeous parks, met in their respective hotel bars at 23:00 sharp, where they discussed international affairs into the wee hours of the morning, in impromptu sessions of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Sandbagged windows in Lviv

During the conference, there were numerous air raid sirens, although no missiles came as far as Lviv. Everyone in Ukraine has an app on their telephone that shows where incoming missiles are headed. In Lviv, we were told that if a missile were coming from the Black Sea, we would have about a half an hour to take shelter; if it were fired from Belarus, we would have about 10 minutes. During one air raid siren, all conference attendees had to descend into a bomb shelter beneath the opera.

Security was IT Arena’s top priority, and the organizers worked closely with Ukrainian law enforcement to ensure the safest possible conditions for every conference attendee. This year’s conference theme was “Lviv’s Tech Event Braves the War.”

Expert Panels

Our expert panel focused on Russian cyberattacks and information operations against Ukraine during its 2022 invasion. Co-chaired with speakers Viktor Zhora (Deputy Chairman, SSSCIP), Kim Zetter (author of Countdown to Zero Day), and me, Kenneth Geers (editor of Cyber War in Perspective and author of Computer Hacks in the Russia-Ukraine War). Discussion highlighted the rapid evolution of cyber defense, allied support from NATO and the European Union, and how much the world is learning from Ukrainian experts during this crisis.

Another panel examined the astonishing role that civilians have played in the war. It featured Serhiy Prytula (Prytula Charity), Taras Chmut (“Come Back Alive”), Haluk Bayraktar (CEO of Baykar), and the esteemed Ukrainian economist Pavlo Sheremeta. Among other topics, discussion focused on nonstate hackers contributing to the war effort from their own homes, the training of 4,000 military drone pilots in Ukraine, and Baykar’s construction of a new factory in Ukraine that will build unmanned supersonic drones.

Other tech luminaries included Alex Bornyakov from Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, and a strong contingent of CEOs: Ivan Tolchinsky (Atlas Dynamics), Cameron Chell (Draganfly), Yaroslav Kalinin (Infozahyst), and Olga Diachuk (COO, Mosqitter). Award-winning defense reporter Illia Ponomarenko was on hand to cover everything in the context of the war.

Startup Contest

This year’s startup competition was held in Lviv’s hipster village, !FEST, a historic glass factory where local entrepreneurs now brew beer, bake bread, make ice cream, and design clothing.

Of course, many Ukrainian startups are now focused on supporting their country’s war effort. However, a wide range of companies and technologies were represented in this competition.

Here are the top three winners of this year’s IT Arena startup contest:

  1. WRAP, an application that automates video production flows, won the $20,000 first prize.
  2. Knopka, an IoT/SaaS solution for hospitals, which ensures that medical assistance is provided within 3 minutes, won the $18,000 second prize.
  3. Nanit, an educational robot that allows its users to identify creative, technical, and engineering skills, won the $15,000 third prize.

Love Lviv

I am so grateful to IT Arena and Lviv, Ukraine, for inviting me to be a speaker at their premier IT conference. For me, this was an unforgettable opportunity to see old friends, make new friends, and above all, to support Ukraine during this disastrous war.

I was sad to leave Ukraine — but I will be back again soon, hopefully in peacetime.

Here are a few pictures from my trip.

Quiet street in Lviv

Café entrance in Lviv

Ukrainian borscht

Snow White at the Lviv opera house

IT Arena 2023

In 2023, IT Arena will return for its 10th anniversary. IT Arena CEO Stepan Veselovskyi invites you and your company to next year‘s event — which will hopefully take place in a time of peace.

One area of continued focus will be the promotion of inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Ukraine has an extraordinarily high number of women working in the tech industry, and IT Arena 2023 wants to hear from an even higher number of women speakers, startups, and attendees!

Very Good Security

VGS is so incredibly proud of our Ukrainian employees and heritage. We have offices in San Francisco, Kyiv, and Lviv. Слава Україні !

Ken Geers Kenneth Geers, PhD

Information Security Analyst at VGS

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