Every now and then social media lets you discover some truly amazing and inspiring people – and Oleg Kutkov is certainly one of them.
He has made a name for himself on the Twittersphere by refurbishing damaged Starlink hardware all while residing in war-torn Ukraine.
He was so kind to make time and answer some of my questions about life in Ukraine, the role Starlink plays, and his experience with repairs.
Could you please introduce yourself & your background (studies, jobs held, current focus, etc.)?
Hello, I am an embedded systems engineer, passionate about writing code and working with different hardware. I am employed by a well-known networking hardware vendor during the day, and in my spare time, I work on personal projects related to reverse engineering, electronics engineering, radio and communications, and software development.
I earned a master’s degree in computer science from Kharkiv Aerospace University and have over 13 years of experience. I have worked in various fields and locations, including an astrophysics observatory. After the full-scale invasion in Ukraine, I shifted my focus to supporting and repairing Starlink hardware in my spare time.
Are you currently based in Ukraine? If so, how do you experience these horrendous attacks?
Yes, I am based in Kyiv, Ukraine, and cannot travel outside the country due to martial law. After the war began, I decided to stay in Kyiv, which is relatively safe now, though it wasn’t at the beginning.
This year, we have experienced artillery attacks, massive missile strikes, nearby explosions, and partial blackouts, all of which have been nerve-wracking and exhausting. However, I chose to continue my work and contribute the best way I can, which helped me stay calm and focused.
Do you still have a working internet connection? If not, is Starlink your alternative?
My primary fiber optic channel remains intact, despite some issues with ISPs during winter blackouts. I have always had alternative options like LTE or Starlink, which allowed me to stay connected even during the most challenging months. I use Starlink periodically for repairs, testing, and research projects.
How well and reliably does Starlink currently perform in Ukraine?
Starlink works quite well in Ukraine, with typical speeds of 170-250 Mbps at my location. The system is stable and reliable, with more than 50,000 terminals in the country.
When was the first time you began using and tinkering with Starlink?
I first started using and tinkering with Starlink in 2021, before the war. I purchased my first Dishy on eBay for research purposes. There was no Starlink service in Ukraine until February 25, 2022.
My Dishy was activated on February 26, and I established my first connection, likely making me the first civilian Starlink user in Ukraine.
I have since shared my knowledge through the StarlinkUA Facebook group and transitioned my support work into a repair job. I now provide free repairs in my spare time.
How is Starlink aiding the Ukrainian army in fending off Russian attacks?
Although I am not a military expert, I can say that Starlink helps establish secure and non-trackable communication channels, which are used for streaming surveillance data and synchronizing actions.
Starlink’s ease of deployment and minimal setup requirements make it a valuable resource in these situations.
How many Starlink hardware pieces are you repairing every week on average?
My repair work is limited due to my day job and lack of proper workshop space, so I can only process a few requests each week. This week, I have three repairs, and last week, there were two.
I am gradually shifting my focus from repairs to support work, sharing my knowledge and assisting other technicians and service centers.
How do you acquire the necessary parts for replacement?
I obtain replacement parts from donor terminals, which are heavily damaged but still usable, and from devices with missing or locked accounts. The latter is my primary source of spare parts.
What is the most common type of damage you encounter?
The most common damages include water-damaged PCBs, proprietary connectors, burned power supplies after bad AC generators, shrapnel holes, and manufacturing defects.
What is the number one thing you would like to see improved with Starlink?
I would like to see the proprietary connector replaced with a standard waterproof Ethernet and the Ethernet LAN port added back to the router. Additionally, incorporating more advanced settings in the router’s software would be beneficial.
I have seen that you have tinkered with Swarm Technologies as well. What are you using its mini-satellite connectivity for?
I acquired one Swarm modem, and I might be the first to use it in Ukraine.
However, there is currently no practical use for this system, as it requires a bulky antenna for stable communication and is still susceptible to jamming. I have done some reverse engineering, but unfortunately, I do not have much time to explore it further.
If people would like to know more about you or simply donate, where should they reach out?
You can visit my website, olegkutkov.me, which is my personal blog where I write detailed articles about my projects. Donation details are available on the site.
Additionally, you can follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/olegkutkov, where I post updates about my activities and projects, primarily related to Starlink.