1. ‘You need to go through many circles of political hell’
  2. ‘I still don’t feel like a politician’
  3. ‘No call-up notices in Telegram’
  4. ‘How can I compete with Elon Musk?’

Mykhailo Fedorov is one of the only two ministers who has lasted in all the governments during the presidency of Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In late March 2023, he became the second ‘super’ deputy prime minister after Oleksandr Kubrakov, taking charge of innovation, technology, education, and science. In addition, Mr Fedorov is in charge of such large-scale projects as United24 and the Army of Drones.

"We are a bit sick of political meetings and meetings for the sake of meetings. That's why I feel like a startup inside the government," Mr Fedorov tells, admitting that he still does not feel like a politician.

In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about being capable to fulfil all of Mr Zelenskyy's tasks; possible return to business; when military medical commissions will be reorganised; and whether he agrees with Elon Musk.

‘You need to go through many circles of political hell’

In the summer of 2022, a draft recovery plan for Ukraine was presented in Lugano, Switzerland. One of the points was to reshuffle the government, including by reducing ministries. You have already said that you are not involved in this reform; However, you are called one of the key driving forces behind it. So why did you stop working on it?

I did not stop working on it; I am no longer formally responsible for this task.

The prime minister is the leader of this reform in the government. I am helping ideologically, my team has been shaping the vision of the reform. Many ministries have already taken the first steps; some have merged; and each ministry has conducted its own audit and is optimising.

For instance, there is sort of a moratorium on setting up of state-owned enterprises. Now, to create one, you need to go through many circles of political hell. That is, the prime minister or deputy prime minister will have to crash-test it: why do it, who can perform this function, and is that feasible or not.

Secondly, the State Property Fund has started to work actively, and dozens or hundreds of enterprises are now up for liquidation or privatisation. Some ministries are merging.

We need to understand that there is a full-scale war going on, so we need to act carefully so that some institutions are not simply broken.

What is your deadline for reducing the number of ministries?

There is no deadline. But in this reform, it is important to understand ideologically who we are and where we are going – for instance, we want to reduce the role of the state in the economy and thus reduce the number of state-owned enterprises. Then, organically, at every level, everyone starts to think this way and make such decisions.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

The same happened with digitalisation. Nowadays, before launching any service, everyone thinks about how to launch it online first and then offline. The same thing happens with how the government works. Everyone is constantly thinking, ‘How can we achieve results with less effort?’

Of course, I'm the kind of person who wants to do it tomorrow, and like, cut down by a third the entire state apparatus. But this is happening gradually. And it is good that this is happening at all.

Cutting ministries is not a fresh idea, even for the Zelenskyy team. Everyone remembers the unsuccessful merger by [former prime minister Oleksii] Honcharuk's team of the ministries of economy and agriculture. And now, the government wants to merge these ministries again. Why shouldn't this idea fail this time?

It's not about merging specific ministries. This is not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is state-owned enterprises, the non-optimised structure of each ministry, and the state's attempts to control what is not needed.

We are now in a state of anomie: we are no longer a socialist state, but we are yet to make use of all the principles of a capitalist state.

The main ideologue of the optimal state and government is the president. Because the war showed that, when half of the state apparatus did not work, nothing ineffective happened; on the contrary, everyone started working even more efficiently.

That's why the president is pushing this idea, he doesn't let go of it. He constantly asks what is happening here, what is the direction, and constantly demands audits and revisions of certain functions.

You have recently become the second ‘super’ deputy prime minister after [Oleksandr] Kubrakov. Who specifically offered you this position? And on what terms?

It is no secret that I am in constant contact with the president. It is his initiative to transform education. It is his vision that we need to bring technology into education, to shape our new innovative technological future.

We are currently formulating a strategy, and very soon there will be many new releases, presentations, projects, and real reforms in this area.

In an interview with online news media DOU back in March, you said, quote, "For me, the basis of my management culture is to focus on the essentials and not take on too much." Then you added that you have a very busy schedule and many important projects – United24, the Army of Drones, the statistics service, and on top of that, gambling business regulation.

And here you are, taking on large-scale areas of education and science. Are you sure you have enough resources and capabilities?

I take responsibility for the tasks that I understand how to perform. It's not like, "Let's reassign you to another deputy prime minister tomorrow and you will be in charge of the ministry of education". The president and the prime minister and I have been talking about reforming some sectors since, probably, August-September [2022].

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

Before my reappointment and change of the education minister, we held dozens of meetings with the president, where we discussed key reforms and what KPIs [key performance indicators] there would be.

Because the sector is traditional, a bit conservative, and there are a lot of important people working there who need to be not offended but helped to earn more, become better, etc.

I have an understanding of how to administer this. There is a new minister. I believe he will succeed. I am forming a small team that will monitor all the projects of the education ministry through certain dashboards. I will personally supervise some reforms and hold regular meetings.

Therefore, it is a simple principle: find great teams, give them all the resources they need to start, and they will produce results.

Sometimes I get the impression that the president is just trying to plug all the holes with you. Tomorrow the president will see some problem again and say: "Mykhailo, please go ahead and plug this hole as well."

This is not the case at all. I am in charge of areas related to technology, innovation, and digitalisation.

There is not a single area that does not need a technological revolution. Education needs to be modernised. The future belongs to the digital economy, to technology, to a different pace of scientific development.

‘I still don’t feel like a politician’

Do you believe that Denys Shmyhal is an effective prime minister?

Yes, I do.


We have gone through COVID-19, Russia’s full-scale invasion, and he knows how to coordinate the work of other ministers. For me, the most important thing is that he has values as a person. He is respected within the government. He does not have any double standards or intrigues.

If the president offered you the post of prime minister, would you accept?

It’s the most provocative question possible.

As direct as possible.

Firstly, I don't want to be prime minister. Secondly, I hope this will never happen.

I respect the prime minister and want to work in his team. My philosophy is like this: when you work in the government, you shouldn't think about other positions at all, because then they control you and tell you what you can and cannot do.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

For instance, I am now ready to fight publicly with people who sabotage customs clearance through [the e-government platform] Diia, and who can sabotage the introduction of electronic excise.

And when you think about future positions, you try to be as loyal as possible to everyone so that you are not criticised later.

Therefore, the most important task for me is to digitise 100% of services so that everyone can safely say that we have built a cool digital state. And then I will, with pleasure and energy, return to business, where I will create cool products.

In 2019, even before Mr Zelenskyy won the election, you gave an interview as the head of the digital division of the ‘Ze-team’, saying, quote, "Politics? Forget it." And then you found yourself in the top ten of the [Zelenskyy’s political party] Servant of the People list.

Now you are the deputy prime minister and you say, "Me as a prime minister? Forget it." And suppose tomorrow the president offered you this position. What is the limit of power that you can accept?

I was thinking about becoming a minister for a very long time. For four months, I was an advisor to the president, holding 24/7 meetings on building a digital state. I even brought people whom I advised to appoint digitalisation ministers.

But when I realised that we would succeed and there were no people who could deliver results and who were supported by the president, we had already agreed to do it. So it was a long way, it was not a spontaneous decision.

Now I still don't feel like a politician. The ministry of digital transformation is like a startup and a project.

We are a bit sick of political meetings and meetings for the sake of meetings. That's why I feel like a startup within the government.

I came as part of the president's team, and I have no other goals than to do what I promised and what is in his programme.

You said you don't feel like a politician. In December 2019, in an interview with Radio Svoboda, you said that you were "trying to teach yourself to think like an official, because sometimes you have to do things that are not interesting."

More than three years have passed; have you learnt to think like an official?

I'm going to adjust my thought a little bit – to learn to think in terms of global reforms and policies and not projects. It seems to me that there is some progress in this.

When I think that the army needs drones, I don't just think about how to launch a fundraising lot within [the global initiative to support Ukraine] United24; I think about how to make sure that in a few years, we can then become leaders in the production of UAVs and capitalise on this as a state.

And then we change government decrees, draft laws, attract dozens of manufacturers, and create conditions for them. So this transformation has definitely taken place.

‘No call-up notices in Telegram’

Recently, Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of the parliamentary defence committee, said that the sending of call-up notices via Viber or Telegram is being considered. According to Mr Venislavskyi, there are technical tools to make sure that a person reads the message, which means that they have received the notice.

What do you think of this proposal and how easy – or difficult – would it be to implement it in compliance with constitutional human rights?

I think either he misspoke or it was just taken out of context. I don't think it's a serious political issue.

This [sending call-up notices through messengers] cannot be done until there is a high-quality register of people liable for military service, and a verified phone number is linked to the register identifier. And we do not have a phone number verification system.

I'm not even talking about the constitution and government decrees. It is technically impossible to do this this year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

You are planning to launch a Military Tech cluster in the spring. What will it be about?

It will be a platform where any person, startup or company can apply if they have an idea for developing a project in terms of military innovation.

Ready-made startups want to get grants, or established projects want to start working with the state and sell their project, or scientists have well-thought-out prototypes and want to integrate them into the Armed Forces.

This cluster will bring together the Defence Forces and experts from the business community. This will be the only place where such cool military breakthrough projects appear in Ukraine, as they are now appearing in Israel or in the United States during World War II.

When it comes to private-public cooperation, the first thing that comes to mind is drones. You recently spoke about the first three companies of attack UAVs. Do you think this number can be a game changer during Ukraine’s spring military campaign?

I am quite deeply involved in this and clearly understand the needs of the entire Defence Forces, as well as all the capabilities of Ukrainian manufacturers. Now it all depends on our operational capacity to quickly organise production, assistance, and financing.

We won't spoil it for the Russians, but UAVs are already becoming and can become a game changer – more precisely, UAVs plus [satellite communication system] Starlink, plus a situational awareness system that accumulates all the information about what is happening in a particular area or on the entire frontline, and excellent drone pilot training. It's all a game changer.

We have already trained more than 7,000 pilots, with the target of 10,000. Through United24 alone, we have purchased more than 3,200 UAV systems, and even more 'birds'.

And now a new era of production is just beginning. But all the details will be seen online, on video – or after our victory.

A year after the start of the full-scale war, the government is still trying to simplify the mass production of UAVs. Aerial intelligence experts directly blame Ukraine’s state service for export control (DSEK) for the bureaucratisation of this process.

Could this body end up like the commission for regulation of gambling and lotteries – which your ministry proposes to eliminate altogether?

We have already removed [DSEK] from the process, meaning that imports of components and drones do not require a DSEK permit. This problem is no longer there.

When we briefed all the companies, we had a roadmap of what needed to be addressed. We have a few things left to do, including removing value-added tax on UAV components – because it was removed for drones, but not for components.

So there is no DSEK in the process at all?

Yes, there is not. It was removed as a link in the UAV development process. Why fight a monster if you can send it to another planet?

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

In a recent interview with Deutsche Welle, you said, quote, "Those who were not connected with the state made it. I am sure that we need to give freedom to entrepreneurs, and they will do everything."

Perhaps in the context of drones, we should give freedom to entrepreneurs?

This is exactly the ideology we are pursuing. And our revolutionary decree is just about the freedom of entrepreneurs.

Before that, there was a decree stating that, for instance, the contribution margin of companies that produce UAVs could be 1% in terms of assembly. And now we demand that they scale up a hundred times.

We say, "This year, the state is ready to buy a hundred times more UAVs from you." But how can a company scale up production with a 1% contribution margin on components that make up 70-80% of UAVs? How can they get money to invest? That's why we removed a lot of bureaucracy.

We have studied the experience of the First and Second World Wars and how to stimulate development. We are simply reusing this experience with new formats.

‘How can I compete with Elon Musk?’

Let’s talk about reform of military medical commissions. Before your appointment, you said in parliament that you needed another 1,500 laptops and about six months to achieve results. What is this forecast based on and what exactly will change during this period?

The main problem is digitalisation. We need to make sure that documents go to and fro, and not people. All hospitals need to implement medical information systems and electronic communication with military units.

But in order to ensure this, we need to get all the CIPS [complex information protection systems] and other terrible words related to information systems. We need to train all the doctors, provide resources, and find funds.

Because if you do it through budget funds, it will take another 40 years.

You have already mentioned the customs clearance of cars in Diia. At the end of February, the respective bills were voted down in parliament. Is the problem really in the projects themselves? Or is it the unwillingness to change the rules of the game and remove hypothetical corruption stories?

I hope that the problem is the imperfection of the [draft] law and our communication with MPs; in some cases, there were not enough votes because there were not enough people to vote.

I don't want to believe that it's because of any vested interest, but USD 50 to 150 million in bribes are paid in this area every year.

I hope that this is an organisational issue and we will resolve it. We will now register the updated law and keep an eye on it.

Is there any guarantee that the new draft law will be adopted? Because, for instance, the ministry of finance criticised the previous one, saying that it would have a significant impact on budget revenues. And now it is supposed to see the new draft law and say, "Oh, no, we do not support it, because we are counting every hryvnia now."

The task of the finance ministry is to always be conservative. But if you take the new formula and the figures for the previous year for cars, you can simply make a correlation and see that there are no significant changes in the budget. On the contrary, liberalisation means additional transactions and positivite things.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov. Photo by Valentyna Polishchuk /

There is no guarantee that it [the draft law] will be adopted. But there is a guarantee that we will not stop until this law is adopted.

I am simply sure that when the first digital service of this format appears at customs, the irreversible transformation of our customs and its transformation into a service organisation will begin.

Many people are wary of the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Elon Musk and 1,000 other IT leaders have called for the development of AI to be suspended. Do you share their concerns? Or do you think that the benefits of AI outweigh the potential risks?

How can I compete with Mr Musk and the leaders of the tech world in terms of my thoughts and vision? Because, of course, I share them. We are exploring the possibilities of artificial intelligence in our work and in public services.

I say this as a joke because we in Ukraine have an institute for artificial intelligence issues, which was established back in 1991, when I was born.

Back then, the problem was [to learn] what AI was and how to accelerate its development. And now the problem is what to do with it and how to stop it.

But I share this opinion because they are the architects of these products, they understand the architecture, [they understand] what can happen if you use these technologies.

The only thing I am 100% sure of is that everyone should understand artificial intelligence and use it in their work, because it is an irreversible trend that will continue to grow. Either you start using artificial intelligence or it will replace you.

On the one hand, the government wants to massively reduce the government apparatus. Plus, there's AI, which could potentially put many people out of work.

On the other hand, we will need to bring people back to the country, and the state may not be able to offer them anything because of AI. Should the state somehow regulate or limit the introduction of AI in Ukraine?

Many countries are afraid of the digital state, but it has helped us a lot during the war: the entire economy functions there, everything is built on information systems, and we launch services quickly.

The issue is that we spend a lot of time on security. Here, too, we will need to formulate the right AI regulation policy.

An interesting fact is that Ukraine has the largest number of AI developers compared to other countries. Therefore, we need to do everything possible within [special economic regime for IT companies] Diia.City to incorporate all AI companies, invest heavily in IT education, school and higher education, so that children understand how it works – to become a nation that changes quickly, learns quickly, and uses technology quickly.

Very soon, we will come out with a public proposal to join the development of an innovation strategy. AI will play an important role in it, and I am confident that it will help us during the recovery. I see this as an incredible opportunity for us to take our place in the world, because the future belongs to the digital economy.