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Ukraine asks Musk for Starlink terminals as Russian invasion disrupts broadband


A Starlink satellite dish mounted on a roof.
Enlarge / The new version of Dishy McFlatface.

Starlink

SpaceX is sending Starlink user terminals to Ukraine after a request from a government official. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation, used Twitter to make a direct plea to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Saturday, writing:

@elonmusk, while you try to colonize Mars—Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space—Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.

About 10 hours later, Musk responded, “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.” A bit later, Fedorov sent a tweet thanking Musk and another tweet thanking Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, “for swift decisions related to authorization and certification that allowed us to activate the Starlink in Ukraine.”

We asked SpaceX for details on how many Starlink user terminals are being sent to Ukraine and how they’re being distributed and will update this article if we get any information. Starlink was recently used to provide broadband in parts of Tonga that were cut off from Internet access by the tsunami.

Starlink was previously “slated to hit Ukraine in 2023,” according to a Fortune report. Fortune wrote that “the relay towers that Starlink uses to provide Ukraine with Internet coverage are likely stationed in neighboring countries, where Russian troops can’t target them.” The closest Starlink ground terminal is reportedly in Wola Krobowska in Poland.

It’s not clear how quickly service will be deployed or how widely it will be available, as the ongoing war will obviously make the project challenging. CNBC reporter Lora Kolodny today shared a Facebook post from a person in Ukraine who said they got the “green light” to use Starlink, but it’s not clear if it was already set up.

Ukraine’s Internet access disrupted

Meanwhile, Viasat said its satellite broadband service was suffering a partial outage in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe. Viasat said its “investigation into the outage continues, but so far we believe it was caused by a cyber event,” according to a Sky News report today. Sky News quoted one “insider” as saying the outage appears to have been caused by a distributed denial of service attack.

Non-satellite Internet access has also been disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Reuters. Internet problems have been most severe “in the southern and eastern parts of the country where fighting has been heaviest,” Reuters wrote, adding:

Connectivity to GigaTrans, Ukraine’s main Internet provider, dropped to below 20 percent of normal levels before returning to higher levels in the early hours of Friday morning, according to Internet monitoring organization NetBlocks.

“We currently observe national connectivity at 87 percent of ordinary levels, a figure that reflects service disruptions as well as population flight and the shuttering of homes and businesses since the morning of the 24th,” Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told Reuters.

“While there is no nation-scale blackout, little is being heard from the worst affected regions, and for others there’s an ever-present fear that connectivity could worsen at any moment, cutting off friends and family,” Toker said.

More information is available from NetBlocks here.





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