Ukraine's telecom engineers in 'continuous repair mode' under enemy fire to keep citizens connected

An engineer from Kramatorsk working on the top of newly reconnected base station in Eastern Ukraine
An engineer from Kramatorsk working on the top of newly reconnected base station in Eastern Ukraine Copyright Vodafone Ukraine
Copyright Vodafone Ukraine
By Anna Desmarais
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Ukraine's engineers are working under fire to maintain mobile data service for their customers as they enter the third year of the Russian invasion.


Vodafone engineers were repairing low-hanging antennas on the base station of a cellphone tower from a dugout pit in Lyman, a city of roughly 20,000 in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, when the shelling started.

They ran out and hid behind a nearby building, eventually diving into a trench to avoid Russian fire. 

When they emerged, they found the base station riddled with bullets from both sides. The cellphone tower, luckily, was left unharmed.

Lyman, known as the "Gates to the Donbas" by locals because of its strategic spot on several key roads, was the site of fierce battles in 2022, the first year of the Russian invasion.

The Russians eventually seized the village but were pushed out four months later in a Ukrainian Kharkiv counteroffensive. Despite this, Lyman is still on the frontlines of this invasion.

This one base station in the city has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times by engineers and trained soldiers. Officials with Ukraine’s branch say it’s an example of one of their hardest-hit stations during the war.

Engineers crouch in a trench near Lyman, Ukraine, during Russian shelling
Engineers crouch in a trench near Lyman, Ukraine, during Russian shellingCourtesy of Vodafone Ukraine

Telecommunications companies continue to organise repair missions every day to recently liberated parts of Ukraine like Lyman.

Their engineers put their own lives at risk daily to make sure people can stay connected in times of war.

Setting competition aside

There are three major telecom providers in Ukraine: Vodafone, Lifecell, and Kyivstar.

These companies have base stations spread out throughout the country, with all the equipment needed to provide mobile data services: antennas, cables, receivers, small computers, cooling equipment for the power sources, and an emergency power supply for when the general power supply goes offline.

All the operators put behind the competition. The first priority, now, is to help people.
Yuriy Zadoya
Manager of radio network optimisation team, Lifecell

Once the government or a telecom tech team identifies a damaged site, engineers will be sent out with the necessities: armour jackets, helmets, a first aid kit, and the equipment they need to replace.

In more dangerous areas, engineers will go out alongside the military as a second set of eyes and ears for when things escalate.

When asked whether staff are given any conflict zone training before deployment, Yuriy Zadoya, manager of Lifecell's radio network optimisation team, replied that "you can’t train them in reality".

"You may want to prepare for this, but you will never be ready," he added.

Once the engineers are on site, they investigate the damage and do what they can to repair the station. They watch every step, looking for potential mines that could be set off.

Engineers dug a trench next to a cell tower to conduct repairs in Lyman, Ukraine
Engineers dug a trench next to a cell tower to conduct repairs in Lyman, UkraineCourtesy of Vodafone Ukraine

Both companies adopted new technological solutions to facilitate these repairs around the war: for Vodafone, that’s "several dozen" small portable base stations that they wheel up to disaster-stricken areas to keep their customers connected.

Lifecell has hybrid antennas with a very narrow beam that can provide a longer range of cell service to razed-down areas that they can’t reach.

In worse-case scenarios, Zadoya said he’s leaned on their competition.


The telecom companies have set aside competition, forming wartime agreements that allow them to share undamaged infrastructure that's still standing after a bombardment.

"All the operators put behind the competition," Zadoya said. "The first priority, now, is to help people".

'Continuous repair mode'

Sasha Ananyev, operations director at Vodafone, said Russian shelling destroyed 12 per cent of the company’s base stations in the unoccupied regions of the country since the war began.

The situation is slightly better at Lifecell, Zadoya continued, where 94 per cent of their stations are up and running. 

The war is emotional for Ukrainians and it hurts how they can communicate with their loved ones.
Anton Grushetsky
Executive Director, Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

The remaining six per cent are located in Russian-occupied areas. Still, he said their engineers are in "continuous repair mode".


Ananyev and Zadoya both said there are likely more base stations destroyed in occupied regions of the country, but that it’s impossible to assess the damage there.

"We can imagine [the damage], because of the pictures we can see from the destroyed towns," Ananyev said.

It’s hard to tell how much this damage is costing Vodafone; the company has already spent 2 billion hryvnia (€47 million) on repairing over 900 damaged sites, and Ananyev estimated that the damage is worth twice that.

Meanwhile, Zadoya said that Lifecell has repaired 1,000 sites since the beginning of the invasion with investments of $150 million (€138 million) of their own funds.

Both men agreed that once the invasion is won, they will need help to get the whole country reconnected again.


"The whole occupied territory is the size of Austria, and it’s a large territory that will need a brand new network," Ananyev said.

"It is hard to imagine that we can manage to do everything by ourselves then," Ananyev continued. "Probably we will need external funding to do it quickly".

Impact on ordinary Ukrainians

More Ukrainians are using cell service or the Internet than before the war as a way to connect, according to one study from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. Now, 80 per cent of Ukrainians are online, compared to 72 per cent in 2023, the study found.

Anton Grushetsky, the institute’s executive director, said the spike in Internet and mobile data use is a sign of how the war is impacting everyday Ukrainians. 

Another study from their institute in 2023 found that 43 per cent of Ukrainians are separated from their families and, as a result, struggle with deteriorating mental health.


"The war is emotional for Ukrainians and it hurts how they can communicate with their loved ones," he said in an interview with Euronews Next. "The Internet is a way to get accustomed to [the invasion] even though it can’t substitute face-to-face interactions".

For example, Grushetsky said it’s extremely difficult for those on the frontlines to connect with loved ones because they can’t answer phone calls. This, by extension, creates a lot of stress for those living in Kyiv or elsewhere with relatives who are fighting.

"You start to think that something bad has happened," he said. "That feeling you get when someone is not online is exhausting".

Despite the challenges to keep Ukrainians online, both Vodafone’s Ananyev and Lifecell’s Zadoya said they believe they are doing a good job providing an essential service throughout the invasion.

"Mobile connection has proven to be extremely important for the state and for the people," Ananyev said. "It’s connection to relatives, emergency services, and to information".


This is the first part of a two-instalment series looking at the impact of the Russian invasion on Ukraine’s embattled telecommunications. Read the second part here.

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