Ukraine’s inefficient energy sector leaves it vulnerable to being stretched over a barrel – literally – by Russia.
“We don’t believe only presidents and prime ministers can solve this. Let’s treat the problem of this country as a start-up – and invite people to hack solutions for this.”
He has begun a series of solar-powered “hackathons” – festivals for computer coders – in fields around Kiev, and a “Greencubator” to help energy start-ups gain funding.
“We’ve already had the world’s largest crowdfunding project, which is Maidan [Kiev's main square that was the centre for the "Euromaidan" revolution in 2014],” says Mr Zinchenko. “And I think we can solve other challenges, too.”
A wintry cold war
With a cold winter coming, Ukraine faces a gas war with Russia as punishment for moving further into the European orbit under the post-Maidan leadership of President Petro Poroshenko.
The country’s $17bn (£11bn) International Monetary Fund bailout also requires market adjustments to the price of energy that successive governments after the break-up of the Soviet Union have subsidised heavily, keeping prices artificially low.
And the dominance of coal oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov has contributed to a dysfunctional market incapable of ironing out inefficiencies in the energy sector.
Against this backdrop, a band of self-confessed energy geeks believe they have entrepreneurial answers to the problem.
“Actually, Ukrainians are quite different now than they used to be,” says Mr Zinchenko, “more co-operative, more collaborative, used to solving problems together.”
He began Greencubator in 2009 after losing his job in finance during the downturn.
In his spare time he worked, using eco-friendly methods, on an unfinished country house built for people leaving the Chernobyl contamination area.
He learned first hand about the inefficiency and bribery afflicting the Ukrainian energy market and became excited about the potential for smart energy and energy efficiency.
“So I said, what can we do for our country in this crisis? Let’s help green start-up companies get investors. But at this moment there were no green start-ups, so I thought, maybe that’s not the best strategy.”