Telecom workers in occupied parts of Ukraine destroyed software to avoid Russian control over data and communications

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Telecom workers in occupied parts of Ukraine destroyed software to avoid Russian control over data and communications
Ukrtelecom is owned by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.Michael Gottschalk/Photothek/Getty Images
  • Ukrainian telecom employees destroyed equipment in Russian-occupied areas to avoid Russian control.
  • Ukrtelecom is the largest fixed-line operator in Ukraine, its CEO, Yuriy Kurmaz, told Bloomberg.
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In Ukraine's occupied territories, workers at one of the country's leading telecommunications providers destroyed equipment to avoid Russian control of internet and phone services.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Ukrtelecom's chief executive officer, Yuriy Kurmaz, said employees at the company have experienced threats and some have been imprisoned by Russian forces throughout occupied territories in southern and eastern Ukraine.

As Russian forces try to take over parts of Ukraine, Kurmaz told Bloomberg they've tried taking over parts of Ukrtelecom's network through hacking and cyberattacks, which the company has endured since March.

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But instead of letting Russian forces take control of the network, employees at Ukrtelecom facilities in the occupied territories "decided to delete crucial files from computers," Kurmaz told Bloomberg.

"They put pressure on our employees to obtain the technical details of our network infrastructure," Kurmaz said about Russian personnel in the area. "But they failed."

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Kurmaz told Bloomberg that his employees "completely destroyed the software," so the Russians couldn't connect their own equipment to Ukrainian networks.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, Russian forces have refocused their efforts to the eastern part of Ukraine since it failed to capture the capital city of Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been asking the West for more weapons, while his senior adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told the BBC that the country was losing 100 to 200 soldiers each day.

Ukrtelecom is Ukraine's largest fixed line operator, according to Kurmaz, and is used by the public, the Ukrainian military, and some Ukrainian government agencies.

The telecom provider is owned by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.

During Russia's war in Ukraine, Kurmaz told Bloomberg that more than 30 of Ukrtelecom's facilities have been destroyed, and about 100 others have been damaged. But, Kurmaz said the company's been able to continue serving customers in over 80% of localities where it operates.

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In an interview with Ukrinform, a state information and news agency in Ukraine, Kurmaz said Ukrtelecom was able to restore its landline phone network in over 1,200 settlements, and more than 350,000 households have communication services.

Due to the war, Ukrinform reported that telecom service is not available in the Luhansk and Kherson regions of Ukraine.

Bloomberg reported that some smaller internet providers in occupied parts of Ukraine are operating under Russian control, but Ukrtelecom disconnected its networks in those parts of the country.

"Our strong position is we will never collaborate," Kurmaz told Bloomberg.

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