Ukraine announced on February 28 that it has successfully received donations of internet satellite terminals from Starlink, a satellite internet service operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov requested these terminals and subsequently sent his regards to Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, on Twitter after receiving the terminals. Fedorov requested the internet terminals from Musk as various parts of Ukraine are experiencing internet disruptions that interfere with vital communications in the country due to the ongoing Russian invasion.

The conversation of Elon donating Starlink terminals to Ukraine started a few days earlier over Twitter when Fedorov, being the Minister of Digital Transformation, had tweeted to a number of technology and internet companies about the need for more stable internet connections. Fedorov tagged the multibillionaire in a tweet specifically seeking donations for Starlink stations for his war-ravaged country, which had been the subject of continuous bombardments from Russia.

“@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,” said the Vice Prime Minister.

Just a few hours after, Elon had tweeted back to Fedorov stating that Starlink service had been activated in Ukraine and that more terminals were on their way. A few days after the initial tweet was sent, Fedorov tweeted that they had received the Starlink terminals, to which he thanked Musk. Elon replied with a very casual, “You are most welcome.”

Access to the internet has been severely restricted in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. These disruptions were reportedly more evident in eastern and southern Ukraine, where the heaviest fighting had been taking place. Now, Russian forces are closing in on Kyiv, meeting extreme resistance from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, notably destroying communication infrastructure with the recent attack on a television tower in Kyiv. Obtaining a good internet connection for the Ukrainians will be vital to its communications with its military and the world.

According to Internet monitor NetBlocks, Ukraine’s connectivity to GigaTrans, the country’s primary internet provider, crashed by 20 percent before returning to higher levels last February 6.

“We currently observe national connectivity at 87% 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,” said NetBlocks Director Alp Toker in a statement to Reuters.

Toker expressed concerns that the media reports might not paint the complete picture of the true scale of the ongoing internet disruptions stating, 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.”

SpaceX and Musk were not the only ones contacted by Fedorov. Upon viewing the Vice Prime Minister’s Official Twitter account, one may notice the extensive attempts to contact Western technology companies in an effort to seek aid and support for the Ukrainian war effort. Social media companies and platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Meta (Facebook) have all pledged to disable and demonetize Russian propaganda and propagandists on their platforms.

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What Is SpaceX’s Starlink?

Starlink is a division under Musk’s space flight company, SpaceX controlling the company’s expanded network of orbital satellites. Development on the project began in 2015, and the program launched its first prototype satellites in 2018.

“Starlink Internet works by sending information through the vacuum of space, where it travels much faster than in fiber-optic cable and can reach far more people and places,” as per the information written on the Starlink website.

Currently, SpaceX has successfully launched 2,000 Starlink satellites into orbit across multiple launches. The most recent launch was on February 3, where 49 Starlink satellites were launched to low Earth orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The makers of Starlink claim that the use of satellites, though costly, can provide internet access to far-flung or hard-to-reach areas that fiber optic cables do not cover or where the internet service in the area has been knocked down. The technology can also provide crucial emergency connectivity in times of natural disaster.

At present, the system boasts 145,000 users across the world. Its service was restricted only to Western countries prior to its activation for Ukraine.

Redemption for Musk

According to their website, the initial plans for Starlink access in Ukraine were slated for 2023. Such an expedited integration implies significant resource diversion and investment from Musk and SpaceX.

However, this is not the first time Starlink has been used to save the day from disaster-stricken communities. On February 23, the satellite venture launched their internet service for free in Tonga, which fell victim to a catastrophic volcanic eruption and tsunami last January.

Despite the Philanthropy work from Elon, he went under fire from Chinese citizens on social media last December. This was after China complained that its space station had two close encounters with the satellites and that they were forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid said satellites from Starlink.

Earlier this February, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) raised its concerns about the possible overcrowding of space after the SpaceX constellation program requested authorization for its second batch of 30,000 satellites.

Although the recipients and the international community appreciate such contributions, it is fair to speculate that these acts of generosity give Starlink a chance at retribution after being on the receiving end of recent controversy. However, the effectiveness of Starlink had been called out on social media. This is because, according to Senior Researcher of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto John Scott-Railton in a tweet, it can be used to find military targets with Russianscontrollingl the airspace in Ukraine, where transmissions can become beacons for airstrikes.

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