The Japanese tech firm Rakuten, which owns the popular messaging app Viber, plans to open a second research and development center in Ukraine, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Ministry announced late on Feb. 4.

The new office will open in Kyiv, expanding on the company’s first location in Odesa, the Black Sea city some 600 kilometers south of Kyiv where the company has 120 employees.

Rakuten also plans to initiate internships and educational projects for students as well as to support local entrepreneurs.

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While the ministry wrote in their official statement that the company is launching the second office because it is interested in Ukrainian tech specialists, particularly the blockchain community, neither Rakuten nor Digital Transformation Ministry replied immediately to request for comment.

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The Feb. 4 meeting between Rakuten’s top executives – vice president Yasufumi Hirai and Viber COO Ofir Eyal – and the ministry followed an earlier negotiation betweeb Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani and President Volodymyr Zelensky in June 2019.

During the previous meeting, Mikitani approved of the Zelensky administration’s effort to improve Ukraine’s e-governance, called State in a Smartphone, and promised to invest in the Ukrainian tech industry.

Rakuten is a Japanese e-commerce company based in Tokyo and is often referred to as “the Amazon of Japan.” In 2014, Rakuten purchased Viber for $900 million.

According to a survey by the market research company Kantar, Viber is the most popular messenger in Ukraine and was installed on 96% of Ukrainian smartphones in 2019. More than half of users in the country are women and residents under 34 years old.

The latest messaging app usage statistics show that Viber has over one billion users worldwide. Most of the app’s traffic originates from Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and Belarus. In the United States, Viber’s penetration only reaches 15% and is nearly 22% in Western Europe.

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