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Ukrainian engineers fight to keep the internet online

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Data and communications industry engineers worked in bomb shelters and rushed to fix internet cables as bombings halted in Ukraine’s border towns, where the fight against the invasion Russian is supported by ongoing communications.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s software and IT services industry body said it continues to serve international companies, even if they, along with the communications engineers who keep the national infrastructure running, evacuate the cities that suffered the worst missile and artillery attacks from the Russian forces and those that fell under the control of the invaders.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, came under bombardment last Thursday which the BBC said subsequently “reduced it to rubble”, the managing director of a data center operator told Computer Weekly how he was trying to get his workers and their families to escape and move west.

“The situation is terrible,” said Dmitro Deineka, CEO of ITL DC, from its headquarters in Bulgaria. “You have to understand that Russia is bombarding civilian targets and communications infrastructure with cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and bombs.

“There are fires in the city. In some places there is no electricity or water. Our engineers and part of our support team work from bomb shelters.

“They are the coolest guys. They just do the usual job. Of course, we asked our engineers not to stay in the data center. The situation is very difficult for them psychologically.

Deineka said engineers secured the data center and copied its customers’ data to sites in other cities before the bombing began. But now they and his relatives in his hometown were trying to get out.

Ivan Butenko, Chief Technology Officer of Omega Telecomsaid its engineers risked their lives to carry out repairs when Russian bombs shattered the cables that make up the communications network through which it serves 140 Ukrainian cities.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “Too many fibers have been cut. It’s hard to recover. But we continue to support our data centers and networks in Ukraine.

“We will do everything to make the connections work. All employees of Ukrainian telecommunications companies are working to restore services. Information is very important today for our inhabitants.

“It’s really dangerous. Some cities have been without communication for several days. When hostilities cease, engineers repair the networks.

Russia tried to destroy Ukrainian television services that informed people of the invasion and launched attacks on the communication towers through which old television radio signals were still transmitted, alongside digital and Internet services.

Mikhail Dmitrichenko, COO at Voliaa national digital television and internet operator, said its field engineers and technicians were heroes in keeping services running.

He was baffled by Russian attacks on TV towers. “Sometimes I think they’re stuck in the Soviet Union,” he said. “They think TV towers are essential.”

Volia had provided televisions and Wi-Fi to the bomb shelters where people live in major cities in Ukraine, he said in a press release . It also provided free internet to customers who could not afford to pay. The Ukrainian State Special Information Service (SSIS) urged telecom operators last week so as not to disconnect people who could not pay their bills.

Ukraine suffered sustained cyberattacks throughout February, before the Russian invasion on February 24, according to SSIS. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian Minister for Digital Transformationreplied with a call for a “computer army” of voluntary hackers to launch attacks against Russia. Nearly 300,000 people have since subscribed to Ukraine’s IT Army news on the Telegram instant messaging service, where the government publishes details of Russian internet services to be attacked.

People in the IT industry have joined this fight, said Konstantin Vasyuk, Executive Director of IT Ukraine Associationwhich represents the Ukrainian export software and computer services industry.

“It’s a real fight, not just on the front line, but a real fight on the economic sphere,” he told Computer Weekly. “We will fight in the IT sphere. We will fight in every possible way with the invader.

IT people with military experience joined the military, and those with cybersecurity skills joined the IT army, Vasyuk said, and, incredibly, the rest continued to serve their international customers.

IT companies had drawn up contingency plans to move people to safe places so they could continue working after the outbreak of war, he added. Most companies have evacuated people from the most dangerous cities, and the top 500 international companies are supporting by maintaining their requests for Ukrainian IT services, he said.

IT Ukraine Association appealed today for a global boycott of Russian technology providers. “Stop doing business with Russian IT companies because they are funding this war,” Vasyuk said.

Many Ukrainian software companies have “diversified their risk” by opening offices in up to 20 other countries, he said, and the national communications infrastructure was still functioning despite cyberattacks and bombings.

“Right now everything is working,” he said. “They cannot shut down the whole of Ukraine. It’s impossible.”

Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation has called to have the Russian Internet addressing system effectively shut down and its security effectively disabled, to stop its cyberattacks and propaganda promoting the invasion of Ukraine, and to make its services vulnerable to attack by Ukrainian hackers.

But the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization responsible for maintaining the Internet’s central addressing system, refuseclaiming that the request was technically and politically impossible and that it would undermine the raison d’être of the Internet.

google say the same it had blocked some Russian state media on YouTube, but continued to provide most of its services in Russian “to provide access to global information and perspectives”.