The First Code Documentary – The Definitive Chronicle of the Ukrainian IT Industry, from Its First Zeroes until Nowadays

  • The feature-length documentary about the Ukrainian tech industry called The First Code will finally premier this April, after several delays
  • The film project comes from the minds of the Ukrainian IT industry, aided by cinematography talent
  • The film’s goal is to educate about the prominent role of the industry in securing Ukraine’s victory in the ongoing war and developing the country in general

The First Code – the documentary about the Ukrainian IT industry – is finally set to hit the world’s leading streaming services as soon as this April. The feature-length documentary covers the entirety of the industry’s history – from the Soviet times and up until nowadays. The film project was inspired and realized by the Kyiv-based EASE, the European Association of Software Engineering, and its president Vladyslav Savchenko.

Inspiring Success Stories Finding Their Way to the General Public

Vladyslav Savchenko, President at EASE (European Association of Software Engineers)

The non-stop development of the IT community motivated the entrepreneur to explore artistic activities and highlight all aspects of the industry’s daily challenges. Meetings with international partners, Mr Savchenko thought that plenty of stories of successful Ukrainian tech companies don’t find their way to the attention of the general public. The film is meant to impress and educate about the culture and the depth of the Ukrainian tech industry.

‘During one of the interviews that we conducted as part of our educational project, we realized that every interview and every story is unique and inspiring, but unfortunately, there’s no source, print or digital, that would show the whole picture of Ukrainian IT industry in the same chronological space. With the understanding of how it was created, and developed, and in what condition it is now. And that’s why we decided to film this movie and create the world’s first database about Ukrainian IT,’ Mr Savchenko tells ITKeyMedia.

Assembling the Team

Artur Lerman (known, most recently, for Oblast Heroyiv) was enlisted as the film’s director, Lyubov Mochalova – EASE’s CEO – as the creative producer, and camerawork by Yevhen Usanov. Tetyana Burenko applied her screenwriting talent to the script, penned by Mr Savchenko himself. The latter also produced the film, and his company Powercode donated the whole of the film’s budget of UAH 8M (EUR 200K+).

According to the entrepreneur, the film crew, as well as everyone involved with the project – down to regular interviewees – have met the initiative with overwhelming enthusiasm and actually lined up to participate.

‘The team was formed spontaneously because it’s hard to gather people like that with pragmatic calculation. Our IT community is very honest, and when the information about the project leaked, I got so many requests and offers of help and participation. So many interviews took place, during which we found not only professionals, but first of all soulmates, people with shared opinions, values, and ambitions about the project, even though at first it was a team of enthusiasts,’ Mr Savchenko boasts.

Later on, professionals from the cinematographic world joined the project to strengthen the team and help realize the entire project at the desired level.

A Fascinating Adventure and Overwhelming Enthusiasm

‘When you make a movie, all you have to deal with is a challenge. And to make a fascinating movie for a mass audience about an industry that has separated itself from the average person with a dense wall of high IQs is no longer a challenge, but an opportunity to answer the question – What are you worth in your field? For me, as a filmmaker, this was the decisive factor for me to start working on the project. Ukrainian IT turned out to be a fascinating adventure that will reveal the human face of what we are used to calling the modern world,’ the film director Artur Lerman adds.

The work on the film began in late 2021. The premiere was originally scheduled for September 2022, but got delayed due to understandable reasons – blackouts, network problems, air raid alarms, etc. Additionally, the team decided to make the coverage of the world’s first cyberwar another focal point of the film.

Artur Lerman and His Team at Work

As for the interviewees, the project attracted the brightest and most respected representatives of the industry – those who played a crucial role in creating the industry. ‘We were looking for pioneers, who stood at the origins and applied their hand directly to the zeros of the first code,’ Mr Savchenko says. Interestingly, it was reported that the interviewees specifically asked not to blur their faces or anonymize them otherwise.

Now that the film has been shot, it turns into an independent entity. According to Mr Lerman the team reserved the final shooting for themselves until the main film is edited, so that they could look at it from the outside and complete the overall portrait. ‘This is especially important when the team creating the film has joined it at the filming stage. This is always the most dangerous way, but again, it is a challenge,’ the film director adds.

Ukraine’s leading IT companies, including EPAM Ukraine, ELEKS, Looksery, Techiia holding, SoftServe, Uklon, Infopulse Ukraine, Preply, and more, as well as the V. M. Hlushkov Institute of Cybernetics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, aided their cooperation for the film project.

A short clip of the film is already available on YouTube.

The Title Track

TVORCHI Duo, The First Code’s Title Track Authors

The title song for the film – ‘Hidden Code’ – was donated by the electropop duo TVORCHI from Ternopil, Ukraine (who will also represent the country on the coming Eurovision Song Contest). According to the musicians, the song is about the supermen of the Ukrainian IT industry who are working non-stop behind the scenes and creating a new history of Ukrainian resistance. ‘From the first day of the full-scale war, our cyber troops have demonstrated unreal strength and unity for a common victory,’ the duo adds.

‘TVORCHI were selected because of the emotions that their music evokes. The melody style and the sound of electro music from the 80s and the early 00s were an organic fit for the movie’s structure,’ Mr Savchenko shares.

It is difficult to overestimate the IT industry’s contribution to the victory of Ukraine. Tech allows the Ukrainian Army to gather the necessary information very quickly. Ukrainians can add notifications, photos, and locations of the enemy forces themselves. More than 500 thousand people have used the E-Enemy chatbot in the governmental app Diya, which can only be used by Ukrainian citizens, and the invader has no access to it.

The Role of Ukrainian IT Today

Vadim Rogovskiy, Founder and CEO at 3DLOOK

‘The IT community in Ukraine has united into an IT army. Over 200 thousand volunteers are helping protect the state IT infrastructure, preventing data leakings, bank systems, and state registers hacks. They are making it possible for the economy and financial system to work even during the war. White hackers from around the world were hired to hack Russia’s databases, and identify war criminals that were revealed by IT scientists, using computer vision and artificial intelligence. Building a data processing center for aerial investigation helps detect the opponent’s plans on the ground. Finally, the volunteers’ active participation in counterattacking Russia’s IT infrastructure, thus slowing the aggressor’s ability to damage our state. And these are just a few examples of the use of the volunteer IT army,’ Mr Savchenko explains.

3DLOOK became one of the many Ukrainian startups covered in the film (and in ITKeyMedia’s articles). Its co-founder and CEO Vadim Rogovskiy reminds that Ukrainian tech talent has played its part in developing some of the most successful startups in recent times, such as Github or Grammarly

Celebrating the Talent

Valery Krasovsky, Co-Founder and CEO at Sigma Software Group

‘The country is full of innovative ideas just like these and tech talent that matches up against the best in the world, which 3DLOOK has had the privilege of working with firsthand. While we’re now an international company, we originated in Ukraine and – until the war began – many of our teams were still based here. We’re so proud of our Ukrainian colleagues and the wider tech community, which has shown determination to keep going despite facing the worst of hurdles, and we jumped at the opportunity to celebrate the incredible talent that the country has to offer. There is no doubt that Ukraine will come through this situation stronger and many of those featured in The First Code will go on to become leaders in the global tech industry,’ Mr Rogovskiy is convinced.

‘Ukrainian IT industry and the history of its development are definitely worth a documentary. It is a fascinating and inspiring story of growth from simple IT outsourcing and web sites development to a robust IT ecosystem with world-class IT consulting businesses delivering solutions for the Fortune 500 companies, unicorn IT products, as well as venture capital. Despite many challenges, IT managed to become one of the most dynamic and stable Ukrainian industries ensuring stable export potential and investments to Ukraine providing support to the country and people during the hardest times,’ Sigma Software Group’s co-founder and CEO Valery Krasovsky adds.

‘For the viewer, the film should become an inspiration. This is exactly what I dream of. My country is going through its most difficult times in modern history, and supporting each other is not just a sign of attention, but a guarantee of survival. The First Code will be a great reminder that each of us has a Ukrainian code, a winner’s code,’ Mr Lerman sums up.


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