Since the very first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s largest mobile operator Kyivstar has been at the forefront of efforts to keep the country connected. During the first seventeen months of the war, the mobile operator invested approximately UAH 8.1 billion into the reconstruction and development of its telecom networks across Ukraine, with company technicians regularly braving front line dangers and performing daily miracles to maintain internet and mobile communications despite the destruction of the ongoing invasion.

Throughout the war, Kyivstar engineers have often been among the first civilians to arrive in regions of Ukraine that have recently been liberated from Russian occupation. The task they face in these newly liberated areas is often overwhelming. In many instances, retreating Russian forces have deliberately destroyed any mobile communications infrastructure they were unable to steal.

While there is no way of fully assessing the scale of the damage done to Ukraine’s mobile communications infrastructure by the Russian invasion, some basic figures from Kyivstar’s own network repair teams provide an general indication of the destruction. From February 2022 to July 2023, the company’s engineers repaired around 1,600 base stations, replaced 1,200 kilometers of damaged cables, and restored mobile connection to more than 900 settlements across Ukraine.

Over the past year and a half, many individual Kyivstar engineers have combined high levels of professionalism with remarkable degrees of personal bravery. During the Russian siege of Mariupol in the first months of the invasion, four Kyivstar employees remained in the city to keep communication channels open. As the brutal siege progressed and the city was steadily reduced to rubble, the last surviving base station in the whole of Mariupol was located at the local Kyivstar office. This precious link to the outside world is credited with helping to save numerous lives.

In northern Ukraine close to the border with Russia, the ancient Ukrainian city of Chernihiv was under partial siege during early spring 2022 and was subjected to almost constant Russian shelling. Kyivstar engineers remained in the city to support the operation of 14 base stations, regularly carrying out emergency repairs and filling generators with fuel to make sure the network would not fail due to power cuts. To the west of Chernihiv in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, engineers repaired fiber optic lines running under a strategically important front line bridge that was under heavy Russian fire. Their efforts were essential for Ukrainian troops and the fleeing civilian population to maintain communication.

Following the June 2023 destruction of Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, Kyivstar engineers took to the water alongside members of the country’s emergency services in order to deliver generators and fuel supplies to base stations caught up in the massive flooding that rapidly engulfed the surrounding area. Again, these efforts meant that large numbers of Ukrainian civilians faced with the direst of circumstances could at least remain connected and access information online.

The task of keeping Ukrainians connected is never complete, with new challenges emerging on a daily basis. In total, around 300 employees of Kyivstar’s technical directorate along with subcontractors are working in the field on any given day, carrying out repairs to base stations and fiber optic lines. Thanks to these efforts, more than 93% of the company’s telecoms network currently operates stably across goverment-controlled areas of Ukraine.

In addition to repairing wartime damage to existing telecoms infrastructure, Kyivstar has also continued efforts to upgrade its network in Ukraine and implement new technologies. This has included ongoing construction of a nationwide 4G network. During the war, more than 3,500 Ukrainian settlements have been connected to 4G. By July 2023, more than 94% of the population in areas under Ukrainian government control had access to 4G.

Meanwhile, with millions of Ukrainians displaced by the war and spending more time than ever traveling across the country, Kyivstar has significantly increased its coverage of Ukraine’s railway and highway routes. During the first seventeen months of the Russian invasion, high-speed mobile internet services have been expanded to cover an additional 5,500 kilometers of Ukrainian highways. Nationwide, high-speed internet service use has increased during the wartime period by around 25%.

As part of efforts to continue developing Ukraine’s telecoms infrastructure despite the challenging wartime conditions, Kyivstar has sought to attract new technological partners to the country. In line with these efforts, a memorandum was recently signed with Rakuten Symphony, a subsidiary of Japan-based global tech giant Rakuten Group. This will pave the way for cooperation on the further reconstruction of Ukraine’s telecom infrastructure and the introduction of new digital services.

Another highly visible wartime priority for Kyivstar has been on the provision of international roaming services for the millions of displaced Ukrainian subscribers who have sought safety by crossing the border into the European Union. The Russian invasion has created the biggest wave of refugees in Europe since the immediate aftermath of World War II, with millions of Ukrainians flooding into Poland and other nearby countries during the initial months of the conflict. Thanks to partnerships in EU member states and a host of other countries, Kyivstar was able to maintain standard Ukrainian domestic rates for users located abroad, while also providing a range of bonuses and additional services worth over UAH 500 million.

With more than 24 million subscribers, Kyivstar can offer unique data insights into the trends and dynamics of wartime Ukraine. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, the company has been involved in providing important analytical services that have helped shape the strategic thinking of the Ukrainian Armed Forces along with the country’s government bodies and law enforcement agencies. This has included the creation of heat maps indicating population movement and data to improve the efficiency of power resource allocation.

The Kyivstar network has been used to distribute information to the population regarding everything from safe travel routes in front line areas to guidlines for the correct handling of munitions. Between February 2022 and July 2023, more than 600 million SMS notifications were sent by Ukraine’s Ministry of Emergency Situations through the Kyivstar network.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is widely recognized as the world’s first cyberwar, with the cyber front playing an important and fully integrated role in hostilities alongside more conventional forms of warfare. As the country’s largest mobile operator, Kyivstar has consolidated its position over the past year and a half as a key player in the cyber defense of Ukraine.

The company works in close coordination with state bodies to maintain the stable and safe use of the Ukrainian telecommunications network, and actively partcipates in the National Malware Information Exchange, which is coordinated by Ukraine’s State Security Service. Kyivstar cyber security experts also cooperate with a number of specialized Ukrainian security agencies, including the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection and the National Coordination Center for Cyber Security, in order to address specific cyberwarfare threats posed by Russia.

Attention to cyber security issues is not a new trend for Kyivstar. The company had been investing considerable resources into the development of its cyber security capabilities for a number years prior to the current war. It is now clear that this strategic focus on cyber security was more than justified. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, cyberattacks on the Kyivstar network have increased by approximately 450%.

Russia’s strategy of bombing Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure has created additional operational challenges for Kyivstar. The campaign of Russian airstrikes that began in October 2022 and stretched on throughout the winter months caused regular blackouts that disrupted mobile and internet communications networks. To help counter this threat, Kyiv star has invested around UAH 920 million to enhance the energy independence of the network. More than 2,000 network sites have been equipped with stationary or portable diesel generators, while around 37,000 long-lasting batteries have been installed at base stations, allowing them to operate without external power supply for four to six hours.

In addition to the company’s communications, cybersecurity, and data roles, Kyivstar is also a major contributor to the state budget and charity efforts. Company employees transferred over UAH 2.2 million of their own funds to charitable causes in support of the Ukrainian military and civilian population, while platforms established by the mobile operator enabled Kyivstar subscribers to donate a further UAH 46 million. Meanwhile, during the first seventeen months of the war, Kyivstar contributed more than UAH 15 billion to the Ukrainian state budget.

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