After the Russian invasion, many feared that Ukrainian access to the Internet would be cut off, either through cyber attacks or the destruction of Internet infrastructure – or both. Although there have been some temporary disruptions and attacks on government websites, there has generally been no internet disappearance. Even so, after the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mikhail Fedorov, tweeted appeal to Elon Musk, billionaire sent help.
Earlier this week, a truck with Starlink satellite dishes, also known as Dishys, appeared in Ukraine. Elon Musk also included the Starlins space internet service in the country, introducing a round of positive titles about his generosity that saves the world. It is not clear whether and when Ukraine will need an alternative internet service, but it cannot hurt to have the public support of the richest man in the world.
Musk is not the only powerful and influential technology magnate to whom Fedorov, who is also the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation, turned for help during the invasion. In the last few days, he has been tweeting sometimes emotional pleas Apple and Tim Cook block access to the App Store in Russia; to Google and its CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as YouTube and its CEO Susan Wojcicki deplatform Russian state media; to Cloudflare and its CEO Matthew Princeto block Russia’s access to its services; and that Meta and Mark Zuckerberg block access to Facebook and Instagram in Russia. Fedorov also tweeted with payment processors and crypto exchanges to cut off Russia and called for “Cyber specialists” to join the “IT army”.
It is part of a seemingly effective strategy. Russia is known for using the Internet to push its propaganda through coordinated social media campaigns. But Ukraine has devised its own social media tactics, and its leaders present the case of Ukraine through personal, often sincere, calls through various channels. Like Fedorov it was said in a tweet last week: Win the hearts of the world as you cut off Russians from technology that has become necessary for many aspects of their daily lives.
In 2022, modern technologies are one of the best responses to tanks, rockets and missiles. I addressed the biggest technological giants to support sanctions against the Russian Federation. We asked them to help us stop this unheard of aggression against our people!
– Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) February 26, 2022
Fedorov did not get everything he asked from other companies, but they offered help. Apple stopped selling products in Russia, discontinued Apple Pay in the country and removed Russian-controlled news apps from the App Store outside of Russia. It’s YouTube deplatforming Russian state media in Europe, while Google and YouTube have stopped monetizing ads on Russian-controlled websites and channels. It’s a target restricting access Russian state media on Facebook and Instagram in the European Union and degrading posts with links to Russian state media around the world.
With Musk, however, Fedorov got exactly what he was looking for, from an executive director who loves attention and who has a habit of jumping into problems that are well published with his own novel, technological solutions under the Musk brand. Musk showed readiness to get involved in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in other ways as well: He tweeted SpaceX logo on a Russian official who endangered that the International Space Station will fall from the sky if Russia is cut off from it.
Although Musk usually raises praise for his suggestions, it is worth noting that these efforts do not always succeed in practice. 2018, a random Twitter user she asked him rescue a group of teenagers trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. Musk assembled a team of construction engineers escape pod outside parts of the SpaceX rocket. In the end it was not used in the rescue, and unfortunately, a commendable effort finished and Musk tweeted that one of the divers who rescued the children was a “pedo guy”. Musk won subsequent defamation lawsuit.
Then, in March 2020, when a coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and hospitals ran out of respirators, Musk tweeted that Tesla will “make fans” at its plant in Buffalo, New York. It didn’t work. Tesla built a prototype fan from Tesla’s parts, which was never put into production, but the whole affair was made for a nice advertising video. Musk’s promise to donate hundreds of respirators to hospitals ended up under the Tesla brand BiPAP and CPAP devices, commonly used to treat sleep apnea. “Tesla didn’t actually make machines, but someone did.” Tesla stickers on boxes.) Although at least some of these machines were helpful, they are not fans.
Musk’s efforts were more successful on other occasions. He tweeted In 2018, it will repair water in all Flint homes that have lead-contaminated water. Although this does not seem to have happened, the Elon Musk Foundation has donated water filtration fountains to several Flint schools. last month. Musk too tweeted earlier this year that he wanted to send Starlink terminals to Tonga after a volcanic eruption interrupted cables that provide island internet. Starlink actually secured the island with 50 meals and free service until he regained access. The gift helped the people of Tonga and showed Starlink at its best: in remote locations that do not have access to wired services or mobile networks.
As for Starlink in Ukraine, it seems to be working, as Musk promised. A man named Oleg Kutkov, who lives in Kiev, tweeted that his Dishy worked. Kutkov told Recode that he did not receive the meal through Musk’s donation; accidentally bought it a few months ago via eBay. He couldn’t connect it to the internet at the time, nor did he expect to be able to. Kutkov is an engineer and said he was given a plate to see how it works, not to actually make him work. Then Russia invaded his country.
“I saw Elon’s tweet and decided to try to connect my Dishy,” he said. With a little help from SpaceX, he was able to transfer to his current location a U.S.-based account to which Dishy was originally registered.
“I was glad to test it and share my results,” Kutkov said. “A lot of people are waiting for this.”
While Ukraine seems pleased with Musk’s benevolence, it may not be necessary. There were reports of occasional internet outages in the country, but, as the Guardian expires, it is not an easy task for the invading army to cut off the country from the internet, which is provided by several companies through several media, including optical cables, mobile networks and other satellite internet services. This is not Tonga, where one vulnerable cable supplies the internet to the entire nation. And it may be even harder to turn off the Internet in a country like Ukraine, which has been facing cyber attacks from Russia for years. He had to make his own internet services out of necessity as resistant to attacks as possible.
Still, having a Starlink is a good thing, even if it’s overloaded like everything else Musk. Internet access was an integral part of this invasion and a way for Ukrainians to stay connected to each other and the outside world. They were Ukrainians download communication and connectivity applications (offline and online) in increasing numbers in the last few days, including Signal, Telegram, Zello and, yes, Starlink. And the Ukrainian government, as Fedorov’s tweets showed, used the Internet to present its arguments to the rest of the world and oppose pro-Russian disinformation from the country’s notorious weapons of Internet propaganda. Ukraine has the support and sympathy of much of the world, while Russia has buried under economic sanctions and more and more companies are withdrawing their services and products from the country every day.
We don’t know how many dishes Musk sent, nor do we know who will get them or how they will be used. (Neither SpaceX nor the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation responded to requests for comment.)
One side note: Musk’s gift may have doubled as a way to get rid of old supplies. The boxes appear to contain older Dishy models, which were used during Starlink’s one-year beta test. A few months ago, Starlink redesigned Dishy; it is now smaller, lighter and rectangular. It’s also possible that the older Dishys were all that SpaceX had on hand to release, as the company has he fought for food production due chip shortages around the world
Anyway, if donated Dishys work, that’s all that will be important to people in Ukraine who might need them. Kutkov said he had to evacuate to bomb shelters several times a day and that rockets fell within six miles of his home. The situation, he says, is dangerous and exhausting. But his internet and mobile service have remained involved so far.
“The situation is changing very quickly. “I understand that Kiev’s internet connection could be disrupted,” he said. “I will use this Dishy for emergencies.
This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. Sign up here so don’t miss the next one!