A Canadian Company Tried to Build a Facebook Competitor in Ukraine and Failed

Ukrainians.co was meant to replace banned Russian sites.

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Sep 6 2017, 6:24pm

Images: Ukrainians.co, Flickr/Jason McELweenie. Composition: Author

In May, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko banned numerous Russian internet services in the country, including the massively popular Facebook competitor VKontakte. A few weeks later, a VKontakte clone called Ukrainians.co launched to fill the gap.

On Monday, just three months after the site went live, Ukrainians.co co-founder Alexandra Strumchinskay announced in videos posted to Twitter and Facebook that the project is unceremoniously shutting down. According to Strumchinskay, the site's development is ending because the site's co-management, a Canadian startup accelerator with European headquarters in Ukraine, is refusing to develop the project further. The Toronto-based accelerator, called StartupSoft, told Motherboard that the decision was made by the social network's board of directors and the reason was simply that it could not compete with Facebook.

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In its brief time in the sun, Ukrainians.co managed to amass a user base of just under 400,000 people, just under one percent of Ukraine's total population of 45 million. The site never became fully functional, although features were continually added as its user base grew over the past few months.

"The situation is such—my voice is not enough to independently continue the project," a statement accompanying Strumchinskay's Facebook post announcing the site's closure stated. "The management of the company development (co-founders of the network) refused not only from independent development, but also from the possibility of transferring it to any other party that could help me fulfill your promise."

A request for comment sent to Ukrainians.co was not answered by publishing time, but we will update if we hear back.

The reactions on Twitter to Strumchinskay's announcement ranged from "very sorry," to "expected." Facebook, after all, is not banned in Ukraine and has extremely deep pockets, as well as an established presence as a global phenomenon. VKontakte may have been king in Ukraine before it was banned, but Facebook was always next in line for the throne.

"Simply put, we lost to the social networking giant"

According to Ukrainian news site Watcher, soon after VKontakte was banned in the country, Ukrainians flocked to Facebook by the millions. Meanwhile, Ukrainians.co was scraping along with merely hundreds of thousands of users. Arguably, it was outgunned by the multinational from the jump.

Ukrainians.co launched with help from Canadian "virtual accelerator" StartupSoft, which confirmed in an emailed statement to Motherboard that it developed the platform and handled its finances and marketing. According to to StartupSoft co-founder Andrew Vasylyk, the decision to abandon Ukrainians.co can be attributed to the apparent impossibility of toppling Facebook's dominance.

"Ukrainians.co aimed to fill in the gap left in the market after the ban of [VKontakte] in Ukraine in May of this year. The assumption was that we had a chance to acquire the ~12M users that VK had, before they migrated to Facebook," Vasylyk wrote in an email. "Even though in just 3 months we built a solid platform on multiple devices and captured 400,000 registered users, the percentage of active users remained low. Simply put, we lost to the social networking giant. As such, the board of directors have decided to shut the project down."

Vasylyk added that StartupSoft "does not agree" with Strumchynska's allegation that the firm is refusing to hand over development to a third party. "We are not against hanging over the development to a third party," he wrote. Moreover, Vasylyk said that the decision to stop development on the platform was not StartupSoft's decision. Instead, he pegged the decision to Ukrainians.co's board of directors.

Regardless, If there's one clear winner after the death of VKontakte in Ukraine and now Ukrainians.co, it's probably Facebook.

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