Ukraine has one of the largest populations of computer programmers in the world.
It’s also an important hub for the programming language Python, which underpins sites such as YouTube, Google search, Facebook, and Amazon.
“People sometimes asked what made Eastern Europeans good at programming. The typical answer we give is, ‘Strict teachers and long winters’. It’s only partially a joke,” said Lukasz Langa, the Python Software Foundation’s developer in residence, based in Pozna, Poland, told Insider.
Python was created in the early 1990s and is now an open-source project maintained by a foundation and a community of developers. Serhiy Storchaka, a Ukrainian developer, is the second-most prolific recent contributor to Python and tenth-most prolific of all time, according to Langa.
Storchaka faced an impossible choice as Russia invaded his country. Like many young male programmers in Ukraine, he decided to stay. Andrew Svetlov, another forward Python developer who specializes in asynchronous networking support, also remains in Ukraine.
Storchaka lives outside of Konotop, a city in northeastern Ukraine which is occupied by Russian forces. He tweeted on February 26“Russian tanks were on the road 2km from my house, and Russian armored vehicles were passing by my windows. Most likely, I will find myself in the occupied zone, where the law does not apply.”
Svetlov is in Kyiv, where Russian troops have surrounded the city.
Insider was unable to contact Storchaka, but spoke with Langa, who has been in touch with the two developers.
“Neither of them wanted to leave their country, even in the face of the great risk this poses for them,” he told Insider.
But as the military crisis worsened on Friday and over the weekend, the Python developer community rallied to help Storchaka’s younger family members.
Communicating with Storchaka’s family through Google Translate, Langa managed to secure temporary housing for Storchaka’s niece and best friend, aged 11. They crossed the border to Poland via bus with their mother, and met Langa, who drove over 300km to Warsaw to pick up keys and secure basic necessities for the family.
Storchaka isn’t a household name outside of the Python programmer community, but within its ranks, “it’s hard to overestimate the impact of Serhiy’s contributions,” Thomas Wouters, the interim general manager of the Python Software Foundation, told Insider.
Storchaka is just one of many Python core developers from Ukraine, and one of many Ukrainians workingin its tech sector. Langa has been encouraging Python programmers outside of Ukraine to donate to the Red Cross Appeal.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia’s invasion on February 24, causing backlogs and delays at the border. Men aged between 18 and 60 years old are banned from leaving the country.
“It’s very hard to build your plans right now,” said Alex Serdiuk, a co-creator of the startup Respeecher which has around 30 employees, told Insider. He’s in a village near the Moldova border, which he said, “makes me happy, because my wife and kids can leave Ukraine if they need.” He plans to remain.
“I can’t say I’m feeling well,” Langa told Insider. “The situation is very serious. My family and I are afraid of escalation of the conflict.”