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Elon Musk: “High” probability of Russian attacks on Starlink in Ukraine

Boxes of Starlink terminals in the back of a truck in Ukraine.
Enlarge / Boxes of Starlink terminals in Ukraine seen in a picture posted by Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk yesterday warned that Starlink user terminals in Ukraine could be targeted by Russia and advised users to take precautions. “Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution,” Musk tweeted.

When asked for specific advice, Musk said people in Ukraine should turn Starlink on only when it’s needed, place the antenna “as far away from people as possible,” and “place light camouflage over [the] antenna to avoid visual detection.” A thin layer of spray paint would work if there are no metal particles in the paint, he wrote.

One Twitter user asked Musk if Starlink could face a cyberattack from Russia similar to the one that affected Viasat satellite service. Musk responded, “Almost all Viasat Ukraine user terminals were rendered permanently unusable by a Russian cyberattack on day of invasion, so… yes.”

As previously reported, Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov asked Musk to activate Starlink in Ukraine shortly after Russia’s invasion of the country disrupted Internet service. Musk responded in the affirmative, and two days later, Fedorov tweeted a photo of a truck full of newly arrived Starlink terminals.

It’s not clear exactly how many Starlink terminals are available in Ukraine, but Fedorov tweeted to Musk, “We will keep you posted as we roll out more Starlinks across the country.”

On Wednesday, Fedorov sent a tweet to Musk saying that Ukraine needs generators to keep Starlink and other services online due to Russian attacks on infrastructure. Musk initially recommended solar panels and a battery pack, and he followed up on Thursday to say that SpaceX is “updating software to reduce peak power consumption so Starlink can be powered from [a] car cigarette lighter.” Musk also wrote that “mobile roaming [has been] enabled, so [the] phased array antenna can maintain signal while on [a] moving vehicle.”

Starlink works for user in Kyiv

Starlink hasn’t deployed any ground terminals in Ukraine, and the nearest one is reportedly in Wola Krobowska in Poland. Twitter user Oleg Kutkov confirmed that Starlink was working for him in Kyiv on Monday and posted a speed test result showing a download rate of 137Mbps and upload speeds of 24Mbps. He also wrote that his top download speed was over 200Mbps for a while.

Kutkov told Insider that he bought his Starlink dish in December, before the service was operating in Ukraine. “After seeing Musk’s tweet on Saturday about Starlink being activated in Ukraine, Kutkov said he decided to try and connect to the service. He said he didn’t expect Starlink to go live in the country as soon as 10 hours after Ukraine asked Musk to sent Starlink kits,” the Insider article said.

“I didn’t expect it will work, but the system appears to be robust and provides a great connection,” Kutkov told the news site. Kutkov has fiber Internet and said he will use Starlink if it is cut because “it’s possible that the local Internet infrastructure will be destroyed.”

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