Local, international communications companies strive to support Ukraine population, refugees

3 Mar 2022

As the tragic events in war-torn Ukraine continue to unfold, domestic and international communications operators are engaged in efforts to maintain voice and data network access for the population within the country and for those fleeing the conflict, as well as their families abroad.

Many telecoms operators worldwide are providing free calls to and from Ukraine, and in neighbouring countries including Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia, as up to a million people have already crossed borders to escape the intensifying violence. Telcos have also waived roaming charges, while other measures have included giving refugees free SIM cards, free Wi-Fi in temporary camps, activating the ‘SMS donation’ function to help organisations aiding refugees and including Ukrainian channels in IPTV packages for free. Local mobile operators Kyivstar, Vodafone Ukraine and Lifecell, alongside national fixed network operator Ukrtelecom agreed to provide Ukrainians with communications even if there are no funds on their accounts, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Regional fixed broadband ISPs in Ukraine are also allowing usage to customers with no credit where possible, while Ukrainian telecoms regulator the NCCIR has allowed operators to use additional frequency bandwidth in attempts to support the continuation of communications.

Ukrtelecom reported earlier in the week that its network was 75% functional but its status is likely to change rapidly as fighting escalates in several areas of the country, with Kherson today declared as the first major city to fall into Russian military hands and other cities including Mariupol and Kharkiv suffering intense attacks.

At the request of Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, a consignment of Starlink internet satellite dishes and associated equipment has been delivered to the country, with speculative reports that the SpaceX service will be used by the local government, while the US firm’s head Elon Musk confirmed that SpaceX broadband internet access was now active in Ukraine. Corresponding reports appeared online of individual Ukrainian users who previously obtained Starlink equipment now receiving live connections. Ukrainian operator Datagroup has had its satellite connectivity disrupted since the Russian invasion and reported that it is working with its international partners to re-establish services; the KA-SAT satellite internet service suffered an outage blamed by its operator Viasat on a ‘cyber event’ that appeared to have begun in Ukraine.

Ukrainian mobile operators meanwhile cut off roaming with Russian and Belarusian networks, while Kyivstar reported blocking SMS messages from Russia and Belarus due to large volumes of ‘spam’ messages potentially causing network congestion.