Ukraine's Kyivstar resumes telco coverage in Kherson after Russia exit

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Ukraine's telecoms company Kyivstar is pictured at company's headquarters in Kiev

By Supantha Mukherjee

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Ukraine's largest telecom operator Kyivstar has resumed coverage for more than half of Kherson city after Russia retreated from the region, and is working to help services across the country withstand intensified bombing, a senior executive said on Wednesday.

Kherson is the main city of the region of the same name - one of four Ukrainian regions Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September he was incorporating into Russia.

Ukrainian telecom operators are working with western companies such as Ericsson and Nokia to keep their network running.

Chief Technology Officer Volodymyr Lutchenko told Reuters in an interview from Lviv the company was installing mobile sites with diesel generators, battery backup and Starlink connections.

Elon Musk's SpaceX activated Starlink over Ukraine after Russia's invasion in February, allowing Ukrainians to hook up to the internet in places out of reach of the domestic telecoms system.

While withdrawing from Kherson, Russia has intensified air strikes and missile attacks, including on cities such as Kyiv and Lviv, destroying infrastructure.

"As a result of yesterday's bombing, we have 20% of our network without electricity," Lutchenko said. "It's worse than the initial invasion by Russia."

Lutchenko said almost all equipment in Kherson had been either damaged or stolen and telecom workers will only be able to work on restoration after the military personnel have checked areas for mines.

Before the increased bombing in Ukraine began in October, 95% of Kyivstar's telecom network was running, Lutchenko said.

Kyivstar, a unit of Amsterdam-listed Veon, uses diesel generators and battery backups in their mobile sites to keep the telecom network running.

"Since Oct. 10 we have regular blackouts in our energy infrastructure so batteries are not getting proper recharging," Lutchenko said.

The demand for communication has never been higher.

Kyivstar's Chief Executive Oleksandr Komarov told Reuters in an interview last month, Ukrainians were making record use of the network, as anxious citizens worry about friends and relatives and the military have compelling communication needs.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Barbara Lewis)