Elon Musk’s intervention demonstrates how satellite internet could route around war or censorship far beyond Ukraine.
ON MARCH 29, Ukrainian forces rolled into the shattered streets of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, littered with blackened wreckage and dead bodies. The destruction had knocked all 24 of the city’s cell towers offline, preventing traumatized survivors from letting friends and relatives know they were safe. “Most of those base stations had significant destruction,” says Kostyantyn Naumenko, head of radio access network planning and development at cellular network Vodafone Ukraine. Just two days later, with help from Elon Musk, the city was back online.
Irpin was reconnected on March 31 after engineers from Vodafone Ukraine arrived with a circular white satellite antenna known by its manufacturer as Dishy McFlatface—a terminal for the Starlink satellite internet service offered by Musk’s SpaceX. The engineers mounted the receiver and its motorized base to a mobile base station on the edge of Irpin whose fiber-optic connection and power had been severed, and attached a generator. Within hours, the city was back online, and so were its remaining residents. “The first thing they are doing is calling relatives to say that they are safe and sound,” Naumenko says.
The speed with which Irpin was brought back online shows the ingenuity of the engineers involved and the nimbleness with which Ukraine’s government has used Starlink terminals. The country has received more than 10,000 of the devices since Russia invaded, in part thanks to funding and other help from the US government. The terminals have already become central to the country’s response to the war, finding both civilian and military uses.
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- Come Back Alive is one of the largest charitable foundations that supports Ukrainian soldiers, founded by the IT specialist Vitaliy Deynega. The organization collected more than 210 million UAH (more than $7M) in 2014. According to Na chasi, the Patreon page Come Back Alive is in the top ten projects by the number of financial donations.
- MacPaw Development Fund
- Army SOS, which develops drones;
- Everybody Can, an organization that supports internally displaced people;
- Help on the Ministry of Defense website.