Kyiv: A young girl singing “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen movie in a bomb shelter. A Ukrainian band in full combat gear offering to live-stream with pop star Ed Sheeran. And shots of civilians climbing on Russian tanks to brazenly wave the Ukrainian flag.
These videos and others have dominated social media feeds around the world since Russia began its attacks at the end of February and have helped fuel a global movement of Western support for Ukraine.
But how are so many people still online? Despite being attacked by a major military power with vaunted cyber capabilities, Ukraine’s Internet is still largely intact, allowing the millions of people who remain in the country to communicate, and giving the world a front-row seat to the devastating war.
Here’s how Ukraine has managed.
Q: What is the current status of the Internet in Ukraine?
Most of Ukraine is still connected to the Internet, especially in major cities. Outages occur every day, but the overall infrastructure that powers the Internet has proven resilient, with the help of engineers and backup plans.
“The fact that Internet networking and cellular largely works is remarkable,” said Lukasz Olejnik, an independent cybersecurity researcher and consultant.
Experts tracking outages have seen an overall decline in Internet traffic, in part because of damage from the war. But millions of people have fled the country, too, reducing overall traffic.
The places where Russia’s assault is the most intense can be cut off, however, adding to the confusion and terror for those who remain.
That includes the besieged city of Mariupol. Major Internet provider Kyivstar posted online this week that it worked hard to keep Mariupol connected before attacks took out the service.
Associated Press reporters who were the only independent outside journalists in Mariupol before leaving on March 15, reported that they had to rely on satellite phones once the Internet had been completely cut off.
Q: Why is so much of Ukraine still connected?
A: Cybersecurity experts have for years predicted that the first shots of modern wars would be taken in cyberspace, with an attacking country taking out their target’s ability to communicate and stoking chaos by taking down the Internet.
That didn’t happen in Ukraine. Russia has launched cyberattacks, including hacking into a satellite Internet provider’s network at the beginning of the attacks, and potentially knocking out service at Ukrtelecom, a telephone and Internet provider, this week. But the attacks have been smaller and less destructive than many experts had expected.
Russia may have anticipated needing the infrastructure. Russian troops inside Ukraine may also need the Internet and cell service to communicate with each other, said John Ferrari, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who researches the defence budget and the military.
This isn’t the first time Ukraine has had to fend off Russian cyberattacks. In 2015, Russia hacked Ukrainian power providers and shut off electricity for tens of thousands of people. Since then, the country has worked on its cyber defenses.
The physical infrastructure that makes up the Internet in Ukraine is well-developed, and often includes multiple fiber lines that can cover the same areas, said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis for Kentik, which monitors global data flows.
Q: What happens when the Internet goes down?
A: In areas where Internet service has failed, often as the result of a strike that damaged fiber cables or because of a power outage, Ukraine’s telecommunications companies are sending workers into the field to fix what they can.
Ukrainian telecom workers have been mounting a heroic effort to keep their fellow citizens connected, “working around-the-clock to maintain availability of these services,” Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov told The Post in an interview.
Kyivstar has been sending out engineers for repairs and is also providing Internet service to more than 200 bomb shelters in the country.
Q: Is Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite Internet service helping?
A: The government of Ukraine has also been preparing backup options for when traditional service fails. After Fedorov tweeted at SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk last month, the billionaire arranged to have equipment for his satellite Internet service Starlink sent to Ukraine. The country has received thousands of Starlink terminals, which communicate with satellites in orbit to provide service.
Satellite service is generally not as fast or powerful as Internet connections on the ground, but it can be a useful backup, and Ukrainian civilians and the military are already using it.
“The quality of the link is excellent,” Fedorov told The Post earlier this month. “We are using thousands - in the area of thousands - of terminals, with new shipments arriving every other day.”
Q: Why is it so important to keep Ukraine connected?
A: Ukrainians have relied on the Internet to stay connected with the outside world, to communicate with each other and their government - and to get messages to world leaders. Government officials have used the connection to appeal for help from billionaires, to speak with Congress and European governments, and to collect information on Russian troop movements.
A government app initially developed to help Ukrainians access public services and organize coronavirus tests has been repurposed to allow people to report the position of Russian tanks and soldiers so Ukrainian forces can find and destroy them. Messaging apps have been used by regular people to coordinate the defense of their hometowns.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has uploaded a steady stream of videos to his social media accounts, inspiring Ukrainians to fight back. Social media feeds everywhere are filled with stories of Ukrainian bravery, pushing people to demand their governments send military aid to Ukraine and enact stricter sanctions on Russia.
Journalists and regular people have been able to use the Internet, too, to get facts out about Russian bombardments, showing the devastation wrought on civilian population centers. Images from the AP journalists of injured pregnant mothers being evacuated from a maternity hospital in Mariupol after it was struck by Russia even prompted Russian propaganda outlets to try to discredit the mothers by claiming they were actors.
“This is a conflict that’s playing out for millions of people on social media,” Madory said. “That wouldn’t happen without an Internet connection.”