Ukraine, according to a government official, has signed an agreement with Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to receive thousands more Starlink antennas to aid in countering Russian air attacks.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said in an interview that more than 10,000 of the devices would be sent to Ukraine in the coming months to provide internet service via satellite.
Fedorov, who has spoken with Musk personally, said, "SpaceX and Musk quickly react to problems and help us." Musk has promised to maintain his support for Ukraine, and he intends to do so. On the day we experienced a significant power outage, I messaged him, and he responded almost instantly and has already provided some actionable steps. The situation isn't lost on him.
The SpaceX spokesperson ignored our request for comment.
When connected to Earth-based antennas, SpaceX's satellites in the Starlink network provide lightning-fast data transfer rates.
Starlink was initially crucial in the conflict in Ukraine because Russian forces prioritized disrupting communications. Ukraine's armed forces were able to keep in touch thanks to Starlink antennas as they repelled Russia's initial attack. At first, Musk was held up as a hero of the people.
Musk, CEO of SpaceX, angered Ukrainians last October when he tweeted that Kyiv should remain neutral (implying that it not join military alliances like NATO) and should cede territory to Russia in exchange for a peace deal.
Fedorov claims that since hostilities broke out in February, Ukraine has received around 22,000 Starlink antennas.
While no formal agreement has been reached, he did say that several EU governments were prepared to split the cost. "At this point in time, all financial issues have been resolved," he said, adding that Ukraine would need to seek out more funding in the coming spring.
According to Fedorov, "satellite connections are the only viable option."
Ukrainian authorities have warned that if Russia succeeds in further destroying the country's energy infrastructure, power, heating, water supplies, and sewage could be cut off for several days or even weeks. It's estimated that roughly 50% has been damaged so far. In such a scenario, it's possible that mobile and online connectivity will be severely impacted.
The electricity needed to run Starlink antennas can come from either a stationary source or a portable source like a generator or battery pack.
The Ukrainian government has prepared for the worst by setting up thousands of "points of invincibility" across the country, where citizens will have constant access to utilities like water, gas, and electricity (with the help of Starlink antennas) should disaster strike.
"We are ready to live without electricity for a month with at least mobile network and text messages available," Fedorov said. In regards to internet, "we have a lot of Starlinks," but the most important thing is that we have a nod for another shipment that will be used to stabilize connection for emergency situations.
There is a lot of demand for power from the tech companies in Ukraine. When it comes to the country's export earnings, technology is second only to transportation. While annual sales were still increasing during the war, Fedorov claims that October was the first month that sales actually decreased due to the blackouts.
He claimed that things have returned to normal now that the businesses have made the necessary investments in Starlink antennas and generators to fulfill their contractual obligations.