One year into Kyivstar’s battle to keep Ukraine connected

Volodymyr Lutchenko, CTO of Kyivstar

A year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we spoke to Ukrainian operator Kyivstar about the ongoing challenges of keeping telecoms infrastructure functioning in a warzone.

We first spoke to Volodymyr Lutchenko (pictured), CTO of Ukrainian operator Kyivstar back in September, when he painted a grim picture of the devastating toll the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had on the country’s critical infrastructure, as well as the dangerous work that goes into entering combat zones to repair networks.

At MWC 2023 we met to find out how the situation has evolved a year since the invasion began, and while there has been progress repairing networks, missile strikes and power cuts means there is a need for additional generators to keep up with the repair work.

“We are more than one year already in the war,” he said. “So I think we have a unique experience in how to provide the service to the client in a war environment.”

When asked what the key lessons have been learned during the process of attempting to keep networks on over the past year, he said: “There are several very major, let’s say, items you need to be aware of. You need the reliable partners. Vendors, suppliers, subcontractors, operators, government. You need to do preparations in advance of course. You need to have very reliable infrastructure. And of course the most critical – you need a brilliant team… I have the best team.”

“Liberation is in progress, and on the liberated area we have provided reconnected service for more than 800 cities and villages and restored already approximately 90% of all damaged infrastructure.”

It’s hard to ask anybody to predict what happens next in such an uncertain and volatile situation, but on the future Lutchenko added: “Nobody can predict, but we are waiting [for] the territory to be liberated. We are waiting for everything like Crimea and Donetsk, and we are ready to restore.”

The challenges are not just about repairing the towers and masts, but also keeping them provided with power, we’re told.

“That’s that was the biggest challenge I think in this one year. In the spring, March, April, the biggest challenge was the network. Destroyed core sites and infrastructure like the fibre. But since autumn, on October 10th, there was a missile strike to the energy infrastructure. And the blackout became the real threat to the net. They worst day we had was November 21st 2022 when 65% of the network was without electricity. Then all four nuclear stations in the Ukraine were stopped. For 48 hours the network’s survived without electricity.”

“How do we adapt to that? Like any other mobile operators, they will change the batteries increase the quantity of generators purchased, like stationary or mobile generators… we had to start a crowdsourced project. We asked people and businesses if they have their own generators to help us support the network. And that actually gave an incredible result. As of now more than 600 sites connected to the generators… every day we have increased numbers. So that’s a unique situation I think – people are really ready to help us. Of course nobody can predict how long it will continue and what will happen next, but I think we are ready for any challenges.”

When asked if there was anything else he wanted to share with the global telecoms community and what it could do to help, he added: “Be prepared. For any unexpected things that can happen… I’m the CTO and if there is any help we can get we can get, like batteries, generators that will I will accept in any quantity at any time. We have a really big network and it’s almost impossible financially to put a generator on each and every site. Simply a huge amount of money. So if anyone could help.”

This week the halls of MWC will be echoing with chatter about next generation networks and all the cutting edge features they will apparently bring with them, but it’s sobering to remember the efforts that are still going on in Ukraine to simply keep the population connected with each other, and the compounding problems that destroyed network infrastructure can add to an already tragic situation.


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