"Who Needs VKontakte? Ukraine Launches Own Social Media Site"

  • "Who Needs VKontakte? Ukraine Launches Own Social Media Site"
Issue 68, May 2014.

Who Needs VKontakte? Ukraine Launches Own Social Media Site

A new, Ukrainian-backed social media website was launched last month to offer Ukrainians an alternative to Russian-owned social media giants Vkontakte and Odnoklasnyky. WEUA.info was launched in early April by an IT team from Lviv. The fledgling website has already gathered over 100,000 registered users and nearly a half million views. Bohdan Oliyarchuk, one of the website’s founders, spoke about the aim of WEUA: “Our plan is not just to set-up a new social network. We want to create a platform that will unite Ukrainians from all over the world and will become a powerful information weapon.”  He adds that it is just one other way that Ukrainians can support the ongoing boycott of Russian goods and services.

The Kremlin Takes Vkontakte

Ukrainian territory is not the only thing that Russia’s Kremlin has its designs on recently, as friends of the government have made moves to annex Russian social media giant Vkontakte. Vkontakte, known colloquially as just VK by its 240 million users, is Russia’s equivalent to Facebook. The website, founded by Pavel Durov, is Russia’s largest social network and the largest social networking website in Europe. Durov, however, was recently ousted and forced to flee the country after being forced out by Igor Sechin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Durov is known for his support of his website being used as a platform for opposition to Putin and has repeatedly clashed with Russian authorities in the past. “Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment”, says Durov while noting that his freedom in running VK had been significantly curtailed before his ouster. With Kremlin allies now in control of the largest social media network in the region, it seems like an opportune time for Ukrainians to take a look at WEUA.info.

Why WEUA.info Might Succeed

However, it was the Russian takeover of Crimea that was the impetus for the creation of WEUA.info. As Oliyarchuk points out, “I receive dozens of letters from Ukrainian Internet users every day. They say they quit the Russian networks and do not want to use them anymore.” And the site has grown rather quickly. More than 25,000 signed up within the first two hours and the site now boasts over 100,000 registered users. He adds that there would be even more, if not for the security features needed in order to protect the site from hacker attacks. He explained that shortly after the launch of the website, the project experienced several strong Denial of Service attacks. He insinuates that the attackers likely originate from Russia as 70% of the web traffic at the time came from Russian IP addresses. In response, the organization now requires an invitation and a digital code that acts as an electronic key in order to reduce the number of fraudulent pages. Oliyarchuk notes that the site still attracts 3,000 new users each day, with the majority coming from Kyiv and Western Ukraine. WEUA.info still has a long way to go to catch up with the Russian-language, Ukrainian social media site Connect.ua, which has attracted more than 64 million users since its launch in 2007. As the Kremlin continues to exert its influence at VK and continues its aggressions against Ukraine, it just may give the new Ukrainian site the user base that every social media website needs to be successful.