Batteries Are Ukraine’s Secret Weapon Against Russia

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The Montreal-based firm has stood up an array of tools to help Ukrainians defend themselves against Russian cyberattacks and connect Ukrainians living under occupation to uncensored news and information, creating peer-to-peer connections that aren’t reliant on local internet access.

Late last year, eQualitie bought and shipped 172 batteries from Poland—the shipment weighed about 6.5 tons—thanks to funding from the Canadian government. Some of those batteries went to a small ISP in Chernihiv, which services hundreds of large residential buildings in the north-central Ukrainian city. ”With just five batteries, which they received within this donation, it means that tens of thousands of residents of Chernihiv remain connected,” Moroz says—residents like Valeria Shashenok. Now, eQualitie is crowdfunding for a second shipment.

“The issue of connectivity is not very clear for everyone,” Moroz says the morning after another wave of airstrikes on the country’s energy grid. “Ukrainians have, for example, apps or websites where they can follow all the air alarms, which may happen almost every day.”

Internet and mobile service in Ukraine is surprisingly good, even by American standards. Moroz points out that for about $8 per month, Ukrainians can get download speeds of around 100 megabytes per second. “People now need immediate information. They want to know, right now, what’s happening,” he says. “So access to internet … means security for people, it means being connected with their families and friends.”

Staying connected also means staying hopeful.

When the Ukrainian Army liberated Izium, which is near the border of Dontesk, they also liberated the residents from Russian propaganda—the only source of news for many in the city. “They believed Kharkiv was also surrounded by Russians. And it was under Russian control, which is not true,” Moroz says. 

“So all this, the combined efforts to keep Ukraine connected, is because everyone understands that the ultimate goal of Russia is to demoralize civilians—because if civilians are demoralized, the government will lose support,” Moroz says. “Instead, it’s the opposite: Civilians realize they might have some hardship in their lives, but still they manage to build their lives around all these difficulties.”

eQualitie is still raising money to purchase a new shipment of batteries to Ukraine. Shchyhol, meanwhile, is bullish that he could get Ukraine’s mobile networks back to 100 percent.

But, like many aspects of this war, Ukraine continues preparing for the worst. Late last year, after waves of brutal assaults on Ukraine’s cities and critical infrastructure, president Volodmyr Zelensky announced the creation of thousands of Points of Invincibility across the country—in government buildings, pharmacies, gas stations, and banks.

“All basic services will be there, including electricity, mobile communications and the Internet, heat, water, and a first-aid kit,” Zelensky posted on Telegram. “Absolutely free and 24/7.” The sites will be powered by generators and connected to the world via Starlink.

“This is what the Russian flag means—complete desolation,” Zelensky said in another address in November. “There is no electricity, no communication, no internet, no television. The occupiers destroyed everything themselves—on purpose.”

Updated 10:25 am, February 24, 2023: eQualitie’s first shipment of batteries to Ukraine was paid for by Canada’s government, not crowdfunding. The security firm is crowdfunding its second shipment.

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Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise