Opening word, or the shortest history of Ukrainian IT | History of Computing in Ukraine

Opening word, or the shortest history of Ukrainian IT

In 1951, the Institute of electrical engineering of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR under the supervision of S.A. Lebedev created the Small electronic computing machine (MESM), the first of its kind in continental Europe. At that time, Ukraine lacked scientific research organizations, manufacturing facilities, and specialists in the area of computer design, with the exception of Lebedev and his team. In other words, the establishment of IT as a new branch of science began with one primitive computer, which was only capable of performing 50 operations per second. Within 30 years, Ukrainian computer technologies caught up with the cutting-edge worldwide standards. In 1957, the Academy of Sciences established the Computing Center, and in 1962 – the Institute of cybernetics. A number of ministries also established their own branch research institutes and design bureaus. Together, they facilitated design and implementation of computers for various uses (including military). Simultaneously, new computer-building plants were established which began serializing these new technologies for use in national economy and defense. Then came the organizations specializing in servicing these new technologies, including programming. This high level of success was the result of selfless dedication of many scientists to their work. V.M. described these years as “heroic”, and B.E. Paton called them “an epic”. The rise of information technologies, which began with computer design, was not a “stroke of luck”. It took time, and influence from external events, like the development of nuclear power, space exploration, the Cold War. The Soviet Union responded with successes in science and engineering, creating world’s first nuclear power station, first nuclear ice-breaker, first artificial satellite, and organizing the first man’s trip to space. These are the milestones of Soviet technology. Numerous scientists and technicians were behind these significant achievements, supervised by their great leaders, like Kurchatov, Korolev, Keldysh, Lebedev. B.E. Paton referred to them as “3K+L”. According to him, the “L” had a special significance. He commented, “He lived and worked during a period of active development of electronics, computing technologies, rocket science, space exploration, and nuclear energy. As a patriot of his country, Sergey Alekseevich [Lebedev] participated in the most significant projects by I.V. Kurchatov, S.P. Korolev, and V.M. Keldysh, and made possible the creation of the “shield of the Motherland”. The importance of computers created by Lebedev is apparent in each and every project by the other three great scientists. His outstanding work will forever remain a scientific treasure, and his name deserves to be mentioned alongside other great scientists of the time”. The simultaneous emergence of a “constellation” of star scientists in all major branches of science, including the leaders of informatization, S.A. Lebedev and V.M. Glushkov, as well as a number of other talented designers and managers (predominantly in secret organizations) was a unique feature of those years Another unique feature was the availability of the post-war generation of young specialists, who were motivated to “gain back” the years lost to the war, and selflessly devoted themselves to the promising fledgling branches of science and technology. Finally, it was fortuitous that the Soviet leadership managed to find the resources to finance all of this research, despite the need to rebuild the country ravaged by war. For example, the budget of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in the 1970s was around 1 billion rubles (or over 1.2 billion USD). The Academy provided employment to 1,000 additional young specialists yearly. The leadership of the Academies of Sciences of the USSR and Ukraine consisted of distinguished scientists and managers, M.V. Keldysh and B.E. Paton. The final auspicious circumstance of those years was the uplifted mood of the general public, and the motivation to rebuild and create, to compensate for the costs of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. During these years, Ukraine designed and serialized around 100 different computer models, including universal and specialized machines, mini- and micro-computers, on-board computers for rockets and ships, calculators, and even unique supercomputers. Thus, within three decades after the war, Ukraine went from a single primitive machine to over 100 models of advanced computers. All of these machines were designed and implemented using exclusively the achievements of Soviet science. Most of them were on par with the Western designs, and were serialized. Levedev and Glushkov became academicians, Heroes of socialist labor, were decorated with many orders and awarded multiple State prizes. The international community also recognized the two scientists’ contribution by decorating them with personalized medals of pioneers of computer science and technologies (posthumously). Their staff members also went from young specialists to highly qualified scientists, and were also honored with numerous orders, medals, and State prizes. 30% of all computing technologies in the USSR were developed at the Institute of cybernetics of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and its Special Design Bureau. Scientific Production Association (SPA) “Elektronmash” and the Severodonetsk SPA “Impulse” created and installed over 20,000 machines and systems. Unfortunately, after its independence, Ukraine almost completely lost its computer industry, and its own organizations were replaced by the foreign firms. The unique achievements of Ukrainian science and technologies are slowly retreating into the annals of history… However, the young generation of Ukrainians will not accept this state of things. Numerous new teams of young and talented specialists aiming to match and surpass their predecessors of the “heroic years” are working on new projects in computer science, this time fully utilizing worldwide developments. We can only hope that this website will help organize the efforts of young enthusiasts, and attract the attention of the leadership to the development of information technologies in Ukraine.

By B.N. Malinovskiy.