Russia Is Taking Over Ukraine’s Internet

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Technical analysis confirms that the connections are switching. Internet monitoring company Cloudflare has observed KhersonTelecom’s traffic passing through Miranda Media for more than two weeks in June. Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik, has observed around half a dozen networks in Kherson connecting to the provider. “It’s not a one-time thing,” Madory says. “Every couple of days, there’s another company getting switched over to Russian transit from Ukraine.”

Since the start of Putin’s war in February, disrupting or disabling internet infrastructure has been a common tactic—controlling the flow of information is a powerful weapon. Russian missiles have destroyed TV towers, a cyberattack against a satellite system had knock-on impacts across Europe, and disinformation has tried to break Ukrainian spirits. Despite frequent internet blackouts, Ukraine’s rich ecosystem of internet companies

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has rallied to keep people online. While Ukrainian troops are successfully launching counterattacks against Russian occupation in the south of the country, Kherson remains controlled by invading forces. (In March, it became the first major city to fall into Russian hands, and its residents have lived under occupation for around 100 days, reporting numerous incidents of torture.)

“It’s one thing to take over a city and to control the supply lines into the city, the flow of food or fuel,” says David Belson, head of data insight at Cloudflare, who has written about internet control in Kherson. But, he says, “controlling internet access and being able to manipulate the internet access into an occupied area” is a “new front” in the conflict.

There are multiple ways Russian forces are taking over internet systems. First, there is physical access—troops are seizing equipment. Spokespeople for two of Ukraine’s biggest internet providers, Kyivstar and Lifecell, say their equipment in Kherson was switched off by Russian occupying forces, and they don’t have any access to restore or repair equipment. (Throughout the war, internet engineers have been working amid shelling and attacks to repair damaged equipment

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). The SSSCIP says 20 percent of telecommunications infrastructure across the whole of Ukraine has been damaged or destroyed, and tens of thousands of kilometers of fiber networks are not functioning.

Once Russian forces have control of the equipment, they tell Ukrainian staff to reconfigure the networks to Miranda Media, Zohora says. “In case the local employees of these ISPs are not willing to help them with the reconfiguration, they are able to do it by themselves,” Zohora says. The SSSCIP, he adds, has advised staff not to risk their own lives or the lives of their families. “We hope that we are able to liberate these lands soon and this temporary period of blackmailing of these operators will pass off,” Zohora says, adding it is unlikely that communications in the region can be restored before the areas are liberated.

For the time being, at the very least, this means connections will be routed through Russia. When Gudz Dmitry Alexandrovich, the owner of KhersonTelecom, switched his connection to Miranda Media for the first time at the start of May, he claims some customers thanked him because he was getting people online, while others chastised him for connecting to the Russian service. “On May 30 again, like on April 30, everything absolutely everything fell and only Miranda’s channels work,” Alexandrovich says in a translated online chat. In a long Facebook post published on the company’s page at the start of May, he claimed he wanted to help people and shared photos of crowds gathering outside KhersonTelecom’s office to connect to the Wi-Fi.

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