February 3, 2023

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Ukraine says Musk agreed to send 10,000 more Starlink internet antennas

Ukraine reached a deal with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to receive thousands more Starlink antennas to help counter Russian air attacks, according to a top government official.

More than 10,000 of the devices, which provide internet service beamed down from satellites, will be sent to Ukraine in the coming months, said Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister and minister for digital transformation, in an interview in his office in downtown Kyiv.

“SpaceX and Musk quickly react to problems and help us,” said Fedorov, adding that he has talked to Musk directly. “Musk assured us he will continue to support Ukraine. When we had a powerful blackout, I messaged him on that day and he momentarily reacted and has already delivered some steps. He understands the situation.”

A representative for SpaceX didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

SpaceX’s satellites are part of the Starlink network, which transmits high-speed internet service to antennas on Earth.

Starlink played an important early role in the war in Ukraine, as Russia’s military focused on destroying communications. Starlink antennas allowed Ukraine’s troops to maintain contact as they repelled Russia’s opening onslaught. Musk was initially praised as a hero. 

But Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive officer, drew the wrath of Ukrainians in October when he tweeted that Kyiv should remain neutral — an apparent suggestion that it not join military alliances like NATO — and should cede territory to Russia in exchange for a peace deal.

Ukraine has received about 22,000 Starlink antennas since war began in February, Fedorov said.

While there’s no contract yet, the governments of several European Union countries are ready to share payment, he said, declining to publicly identify them. “As of now all financial issues have been resolved,” he said, adding that Ukraine will need to find additional funding in the spring.

“There is no alternative to satellite connections,” Fedorov said.

Ukraine is preparing for a worst-case scenario in which power, heating, water supplies and sewage could be cut off for several days or even weeks if Russia manages to further destroy the country’s energy infrastructure, Ukrainian authorities have said. About half of it has already been damaged. Mobile and internet connections could also be significantly limited in that instance.

Starlink antennas require electricity but can be powered by generators or power banks.

The nation’s contingency plan includes deploying thousands of so-called “points of invincibility,” locations where Ukrainians could get uninterrupted access to power, heating and internet, some of it provided by Starlink antennas. 

“We are ready to live without electricity for a month with at least mobile network and text messages being available,” Fedorov said. “Regarding internet, we have a lot of Starlinks, but the key point is we have got a nod for another shipment that will be used to stabilize connection for critical situations.” 

Ukraine’s tech companies are a large source of electrical demand. Tech ranks second among the country’s industries in terms of generating export revenue. While their sales continued to grow on an annual basis even during the war, October was the first month when revenues plunged amid blackouts, according to Fedorov.

The situation has stabilized as the companies have purchased Starlink antennas and generators, and are now fulfilling their contracts, he said.

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