Ukraine’s internet infrastructure struggles as Russian invasion continues
Ukraine’s internet networks have suffered increasing disruptions in recent days as Russia continues its assault on the country — threatening to sever Ukraine’s ability to court diplomatic allies online and share images of apparent attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals.
Ukraine has a fairly sophisticated networking infrastructure that allowed the country to stay mostly online during the assault, despite some local and regional outages around areas with the fiercest fighting.
But data shared by global network monitors on Thursday suggests the country’s networks face ongoing physical and digital threats during the assault that have significantly degraded local service.
Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik, flagged on Twitter major apparent national-level outages at two local providers, Ukrtelecom and Triolan. Global network data reflected the vast majority of traffic involving the providers dropping off for roughly 40 minutes at Ukrtelecom and more than a day at Triolan.
Triolan is a collective of independent network operators in Ukraine that is a major broadband provider in the country — typically among the top five to ten carriers in terms of global traffic flow, according to Madory.
But web traffic involving Triolan dropped dramatically around 10:30 pm local time on Wednesday, and it’s still far below normal levels based on assessments from Madory and traffic flows from the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis Project at Georgia Tech University.
According to a statement posted to Telegram by Triolan Thursday, service disruptions were attributed to what the company described as a second round of cyberattacks that disabled routing equipment in ways that left them unable to remotely recover service.
“This is a vicious strategy of the enemy, who is trying to damage information networks and leave people without communication,” according to a translation of the statement.
“We are trying to stop the attackers as soon as possible and resume the network in all areas.”
Triolan normally represents a major broadband provider in the country, according to Madory.
The national disruption at Ukrtelecom Thursday was much shorter and also was not complete, but disrupted the majority of traffic, according to Madory.
The cause of the issue is unclear.
Madory previously flagged a three-hour apparent near complete disruption of Ukrtelecom access on March 8.
Ukrtelecom is Ukraine’s incumbent telecommunication provider and a major provider for mobile and broadband internet access in the country. The company previously reported several regional outages in an update on March 5, adding that its crews had restored services to Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Volyn, Khmelnytsky, Lviv and Ternopil regions that were disrupted by hostilities.
In that update, the company also noted continued disruptions in Chernihiv, Sumy and Kherson regions due to fighting.
Ukrtelecom did not immediately respond to an inquiry about recent traffic disruptions.
Ukrtelecom was previously a state-controlled entity, but is now owned by the country’s richest person — Rinat Akhmetov — via the holding company System Capital Management or SCM.
Akhmetov has long been seen as aligned with Russian interests in the country, including former Ukrainian leader Ukrainian Victor Yanukovych who was deposed in a 2014 revolution after violently cracking down on protesters.
According to the report on the investigation into Russian influence operations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, Akhmetov hired future Donald Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort to promote Yanukovych’s political party in 2005. (Manafort pleaded guilty to criminal counts related to that investigation, including failing to register as a foreign agent of Ukraine, and was sentenced to years in prison, but released to home confinement during the pandemic in 2020.)
Akhmetov left Ukraine via private jet on February 13 before the invasion, according to local news reports. The oligarch has since come out against the invasion, calling Putin a war criminal and telling Forbes he is doing everything he can to help Ukraine.