In peacetime, without access to the Internet, businesses do not operate, planes do not fly, and bank transfers are not sent. In wartime, even more depends on communication – the ability of the army to fight and the ability of people in the rear to live, work and help the defense.
Since February 24, Ukraine has been living in a state of war. During this time, millions of Ukrainians had to leave their homes, thousands were killed and injured, and damage to infrastructure is estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. However, wherever possible, supermarkets are open, delivery services are operating, and harvest and production are underway. There is connection. Never before, even during lockdowns, have we appreciated the work of cellular operators and Internet providers so much. In today’s Ukraine, online connection is not only a convenience but also a critical need for the rear, where the entire infrastructure depends on it, as well as the front.
“War does not change” – these words begin all parts of the legendary Fallout series. In a certain sense, this is true: war is always pain, losses, heroism of some and meanness of others. But the world has been rapidly transforming in recent decades, and the war along with it. Our enemy dreams of returning to the 20th century and fights according to outdated patterns of world wars. The Ukrainian army is the army of the 21st century: small highly mobile units, constant exchange of data, flexible tactics. All this would be unattainable without modern communication technologies that ensure close cooperation between the military and IT specialists. Let’s talk a little more about what telecom and hi-tech are doing today for our independence.
In shelters, but not in the “darkness”
The war began with missile strikes, pain and confusion. No, the military was ready and acted as efficiently and clearly as possible. And many ordinary Ukrainians were also waiting for a blow in the back. But still… Access to information and communication with relatives was needed like never before. The Internet and mobile networks have become threads that keep us from losing each other and help us stay afloat. We received not only news of enemy advances and losses, but also useful advice on mustering for evacuation, a map of bomb shelters, and internet banking. The providers did not give up and the “fog of war” did not cover Ukraine, despite shelling and infrastructure damage. But it quickly became clear that access to the network was now needed in places that we had rarely visited before for more than a few minutes. Basements, underground floors, and parking lots turned into shelters, where Ukrainians regularly had to hide from the strikes.
The service providers themselves took the initiative. In the very first days of the war, Volia and Kyivstar providers began to connect bomb shelters to the network for free and install routers there. In Kyiv, a few days later, Lanet took care of this, in regional centers – Vega (together with Kyivstar and Volia), and in smaller settlements – local providers.
This turned out to be difficult. First, many shelters are located far from communication nodes. Or, if we are talking about the basements of residential buildings, nearby, but with access to the other side. Technicians had to lay 100 or 200 meters of cable on rather difficult surfaces — past thermal communications and sewage pipes. And to connect new points, despite the bombing. Secondly, many bomb shelters are large spaces or branching corridors. Signal amplifiers and additional Wi-Fi points were installed there. By the way, in Lutsk, Ternopil and a number of other cities, providers connected only shelters that meet the standards of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, that is, with two exits and sufficient capacity.
There were also curiosities. Volia representatives say that their work was often interrupted by the police, as vigilant citizens reported suspicious activity in the basement. The work on connection did not end even in the summer, on the contrary, now the country already has several thousand shelters where Ukrainians can stay safe, work remotely, study or simply keep in touch with loved ones who are also hiding somewhere in another basement.
The enemy is attacking the Network
Now the number of people who continue to go down to the bomb shelters has decreased by 10 times, but the Internet works properly. It may not be our most important weapon, but it is definitely in the top three. Our enemy, it seems, did not understand this immediately, and in the first weeks of the war, they attached much more importance to mobile communication and digital television. Let’s recall March 1 and 2: the enemy aircraft tried to leave the people of Kyiv and Kharkiv without news by shelling TV towers. They were repaired in a matter of days, but the Ukrainians killed in the shelling cannot be brought back.
There were also attempts by hackers to attack the servers of Ukrainian providers. On March 9-10, the Internet provider Triolan was down, on March 29, the servers of Ukrtelecom were attacked. In both cases, recovery took about a day. Hackers friendly to Ukraine, of course, did not sit still. An IT army was formed, which launched attacks on the servers of Russian providers. This made life difficult for the Russians but had an insignificant effect on military operations. So the pro-Ukrainian internet forces quickly switched to targeted raids. Big banks of the aggressor and the databases of their ministries became their victims.
The situation with mobile communication in the occupied territories is different. Here, the enemy has real technical capabilities to jam the signals of Ukrainian operators and disable their towers. However, they cannot use our equipment due to blocking, and the fiber optic cables, which are stretched from Crimea, work unstably. Therefore, the pre-war quality of communication, which ruscist propaganda proudly speaks of, can only be found in large cities – Kherson and Mariupol. But since the beginning of summer, the residents have been virtually cut off from the outside world, with the exception of the Russian “zombie box”.
In those regions, where heavy fighting took place in the spring, Ukrainians were left without communication not because of the blockade and technological advancement of the enemy, but because of banal barbarism. Towers and fiber optic lines were damaged. The entire districts of Chernihiv and Sumy were without electricity for a long time, and it was possible to contact the outside world from there only thanks to the heroism of volunteers. Cars with generators drove through the city (and the shelling was constant), and local residents could charge their smartphones and laptops from time to time. The connection was unstable, but the engineers regularly restored it.
In the cities of the Kyiv region, after the ruscists left, the infrastructure was so damaged that the Internet appeared there thanks to one of the main miracles of this war. Billionaire Elon Musk, who is well known to everyone who is interested in breakthrough technologies, played the role of a magician.
Starlink rushes to the rescue
“Elon Musk, while you try to colonize Mars — Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people!” this tweet was published on the third day of the war by the Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov. Less than a day later, a response appeared on Musk’s twitter: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”
This is how the official history of Starlink satellite Internet in our country began. The first terminals arrived from European warehouses the same day, and this was really just the beginning. Currently, the number of activated satellite Internet terminals from SpaceX in Ukraine has exceeded 14 thousand and continues to increase. They found a place in evacuation trains, in the “Iron Town” that Ukrzaliznytsia has equipped in Irpen for refugees, in hospitals, in strategic production, it can be used even in occupied towns and cities.
Some military analysts already call Musk’s terminals one of the main components of the Ukrainian army’s success in the first and second phases of the war. No, without the heroism and professional skills of the Ukrainian military “plates” would be useless. But they helped our army to operate within the framework of the most advantageous tactics against the enemy’s superior forces – to attack in a coordinated manner in mobile groups, to withdraw in time, and to instantly exchange information about changes in different areas of the front. An army without communication is not an army. Therefore, small-sized and resistant to enemy EW terminals now have many units.
Even in data transmission mode, it is far from always possible for Russian experts to detect and jam Starlink. And in the off state it is simply impossible. Being “at ground zero” like nothing else stimulates the desire to get real information, and Musk’s satellite network provides such an opportunity. In addition, civilians use it to post as much information as possible on the Internet about the movement of enemy units and record the facts of war crimes. Currently, for this purpose, the country’s government has launched official Internet resources that have replaced chatbots in Telegram that have been working since the first days of the war: ieVoroh chatbot, which works on the basis of the Diia platform.
Satellite communication as a weapon
Very quickly it became clear that the communications network, which is supported by satellite communication, helps not only to coordinate the actions of our units and to reassure relatives left behind. Having access to high-speed and invulnerable to enemy EW Internet, the Ukrainian army got the opportunity to use advanced technologies of the XXI century for victory. The same war of the past with the future has begun, where the aggressor fights according to the standards of the Second World War, and Ukrainians master the latest developments in the IT industry. UAVs and software for calculating artillery strikes showed themselves most brightly. Less is written about such basic military things as mapping and logistics. Most of these functions are combined with original software developed in our country. It is aptly called, like many other developments that became famous in this war: Kropyva (Nettle). It ensures not only the accurate and coordinated operation of artillery, but also evacuation raids on enemy-occupied territory, transportation of the wounded from the front line, and much more. We also have an alternative – the Arta geoinformation system developed by volunteers. Of course, we know only schematically about the work of these programmes, instead, their results are often visible and public.
One of the high-profile examples of the use of the Starlink network is coverage of the situation at the Azovstal plant. And we are not only talking about the famous press conference, the terrible footage of which spread on the Internet. Communication with the satellite paired with military information systems helped the defenders of Azovstal receive ammunition, food and medicine.
Of course, there were attempts by Russia to eliminate an inconvenient and unexpected ally. There were several cyberattacks on SpaceX servers, but none of them brought results – the encryption of Musk’s satellite Internet turned out to be too tough for ruscist hackers. More and more units in the eastern and southern directions are acquiring the desired equipment, supplied not only by the army but also by volunteers. They independently buy Starlink base stations abroad and bring them to the front line.
The presence of a large number of terminals paid by Ukrainians, and not donated by a broad gesture of Mask, provides us with confidence that Ukraine will remain on the list of countries connected to satellite Internet even after the war. However, now Starlink works for free with us. When everything returns to peaceful life, you will have to pay. The amount of the monthly subscription fee for Europe with its expensive Internet looks acceptable, but in our country, $60 seems excessive to ordinary citizens. It is likely that Starlink will mainly remain a strategic resource and will be used where cable communication is broken or absent. As for civilians, the situation here is unlikely to change much, although the “space internet” received excellent publicity.
What is more important now, of course, is not the future prospects of Starlink, but the fact that a reliable Internet makes it possible for each of us to make a significant contribution to the overall victory, without paying the bills with sweat and blood. The war has changed: this is what we are told by the appearance of the ieVoroh function in Diia, a message with an appeal to join the MRIYA project, military government bonds in Internet banking, signing international petitions and much more. Each of us who owns a computer, tablet or phone with Internet access can help. And it doesn’t matter what it will be – coordinates for artillery or a blocked propaganda resource. What is important is that our efforts are bearing fruit, and that all this is possible thanks to things that are normal to us – the Internet and human mutual support.