Elon Musk’s Starlink, a key to Ukraine’s connectivity amid Russian attacks

By Rostyslav Averchuk


Lviv, Ukraine, Nov 17 (EFE).- The Starlink satellite internet service from Elon Musk’s SpaceX is growing in popularity beyond the front lines of conflict in Ukraine, where it has been lauded as a safe channel of military communication, as Russia ramps up its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.


“Our company provides direct fiber optic internet connection from Poland in the office but also assists us in buying Starlink terminals for home use,” Khrystyna, a quality assurance specialist who works in Lviv’s thriving IT-sector, tells Efe.


Reliable access to the Internet is indispensable to her and thousands of software engineers who work for dozens of IT companies in the city.


Equipped with its own power supply, the Starlink terminal provides a stable connection to the Internet regardless of any potential power outages due to Russian missile strikes.

A local man shows his damaged home after a recent rocket attack in the village of Solonka, not far from the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine, 16 November 2022. EFE/EPA/MYKOLA TYS


This feature has seen the system play an important role in reestablishing communications in areas damaged by the war, despite the ongoing uncertainty as to who will continue to fund the technology.


For now, some 210 additional Starlink user terminals have been sent to the recently liberated Kherson in southern Ukraine to provide locals, hospitals, police and firefighters stable internet access.


Five public Wi-Fi spots have already been set up in the city, with 60 more expected to come into operation in the next two weeks, the minister of digital transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said on Wednesday.


“People get in touch with their relatives, learn about the victories of the Armed Forces and charge their smartphones from generators”, he wrote on his Telegram channel.


It was Fedorov himself who asked Musk, the owner of the company, to send its terminals to Ukraine at the very beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion.


About 20,000 terminals have been sent to Ukraine, according to SpaceX, paid for by a number of private and state donors, including the company itself, as well as the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland.


A bulk of terminals was distributed between strategically important locations in Ukraine and the army, but the exact number is difficult to establish.


Thousands of terminals may have been ordered by individual Ukrainian volunteers or consumers, both for their personal use and to be sent to the soldiers.


A software engineer from Lviv, Maksym, tells Efe that “Ukraine may be the fastest growing market for Starlink right now.”


He adds that Ukrainians pay $385 for each terminal while a monthly service costs at least $60. This is much more expensive than the access to high-speed fiber optic internet, which costs around $8 in Ukraine, but is unavailable on the front lines or nearby cities.


Maksym ordered a terminal for himself, just in case, after the first wave of Russian attacks against the Ukrainian infrastructure. One week after he received it, he handed it over to the Ukrainian troops on the frontline.


For soldiers, Starlink provides a way to stay in touch with their families and allows them to communicate amongst themselves during high-risk military operations. It is key to making sure the information collected by thousands of drones is merged into a single picture for the Ukrainian military commanders.

Residents take water from the Dnipro River in Kherson, Ukraine, 16 November 2022. EFE/EPA/OLEG PETRASYUK


Easy to set up and move around, terminals ensure that even units on the move can stay in touch without fear of communications being intercepted or revealing their location, as can happen with radio or mobile phone signals.


Relying on the base stations in Poland and Turkey, the signal gets weaker the further east a terminal is located. Given the lack of the alternatives, however, Starlink remains crucial to the country’s defense.


This explains a heated reaction to Musk saying in October his company could no longer afford to fund Starlink in Ukraine. He has since reverted his position and promised to continue supporting it.


Still, according to CNN, negotiations around who would cover the cost of its operation in Ukraine are ongoing and 1,300 terminals were shut down by the company in late October due to the lack of payment.EFE
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