As Ukraine marks a full week of war with Russia, the Internet has remained accessible for much of the country. However, regional service blackouts and overall uncertainty for the path ahead are cause for concern about how long telecommunications services will stay active.
Here's the latest on what we know about where and why Ukrainians are seeing Internet service disruptions:
The most significant outage appeared to occur on Thursday afternoon (US time), according to global Internet monitor NetBlocks, which reported that Ukraine sustained a "telecoms blackout" across the Sumy Oblast due to "massive blasts at the thermal power plant and electrical substation that turned the sky 'yellow and red' for miles," said NetBlocks in a tweet.
On Wednesday morning, NetBlocks also reported Internet service outages on ISP Kyivstar: a result of 500 basestations going offline "due to power and infrastructure damages."
The Kyivstar outage followed others NetBlocks documented this week, including in the city of Sievierodonetsk, where it said "Internet connectivity has collapsed" on Monday.
And on Saturday, NetBlocks confirmed that GigaTrans, an Internet backbone provider in Ukraine, had sustained a "major disruption" as heavy fighting broke out in Vasylkiv and Kyiv.
Another group tracking Internet access, the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project at Georgia Tech, reported disruptions across six regions on several networks Tuesday, including Merlin, TVCOM, CDS, TVP Format, Interphone, Trinity, Arhat, Lanet and Triolan.
While some outages are reportedly due to infrastructure damage sustained in fighting (it is unclear whether telecommunications are an intentional target), potential cyberattacks remain a concern as well. On Monday, satellite provider Viasat reported that a "cyber event" was causing "a partial network outage — impacting internet service for fixed broadband customers in Ukraine and elsewhere on our European KA-SAT network," according to CNBC. The outage started on February 24, the first day of the Russian invasion.
As of Monday, Viasat said in press statements that it notified "law enforcement and government partners" and was "investigating and analyzing our European network and systems to identify the root cause and are taking additional network precautions to prevent further impacts while we attempt to recover service to affected customers."
The company did not respond to a request for an update on the status of its network as of this writing.
Status of Starlink
As reported earlier this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed his company's Starlink satellite service was live in Ukraine – following an appeal from Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov on Twitter. Fedorov later posted a photo showing the Starlink terminals' arrival in the region.
While it remains unclear how widespread Starlink access is throughout the region, Oleg Kutkov, a software and communications engineer in Kyiv, confirmed on Twitter that his was up and running (with a satellite dish he previously purchased on eBay). However, as he also told The Verge, he intends to use Starlink as a backup since his fiber Internet service is currently working.
One open question is the security of those using Starlink in Ukraine, with researchers like Citizen Lab's John Scott-Railton warning that uplink transmissions could be targeted by Russian airstrikes.
Mike Schwille, senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation, shared those concerns in an email to Broadband World News this week, saying, "The satellite links could well be targeted by the Russians for kinetic (missile strikes), or non-kinetic strikes (maybe I'll drive over and see who is using this piece of equipment, or maybe I'll just jam it)."
In a tweet on Monday, following Starlink's arrival in the country, Citizen Lab's Scott-Railton reiterated his concerns for Ukrainians, saying, "I hope that OPSEC is front of mind as decisions are made about terminal distribution, use & placement."
Asked in a national security press briefing on Wednesday afternoon whether the US had any involvement in distributing the Starlink terminals to Ukraine, US Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby responded, "No help from us that I'm aware of."
Change in activity
As far as Internet traffic goes, according to a representative for Cloudflare, a cybersecurity company that is monitoring Internet activity in Ukraine, while traffic levels saw some recovery Tuesday into Wednesday, they remain "markedly lower than pre-invasion levels."
Specifically, said Cloudflare in an email to Broadband World News, "peak traffic in Kyiv is approximately 11% below pre-invasion peaks, while peak traffic in Kharkiv is approximately 50% lower than pre-invasion peaks. Meanwhile, Internet traffic in Lviv has remained elevated Monday - Wednesday above normal levels."
Regarding cyberattacks, Cloudflare confirmed they "remain relatively quiet on .ua domains with occasional bursts of small cyberattacks."
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.
[Ed. note: This story was updated on Thursday, March 3, 2:10 p.m. ET, to reflect continued outages due to ongoing bombing.]