René Fichtmüller is based outside of Berlin, Germany in Panketal. He is the aspirant Optician at FlexOptix and a co-founder of a project that is changing the lives of Ukrainians in crisis. Many across the globe have watched in horror, feeling helpless to the current Russian invasion in Ukraine. Fichtmüller and a team that calls itself "The Task Force'' (located roughly 590 miles away from Ukraine) have found a way to utilize their technical skillset to lend a hand.
NANOG caught up with Fichtmüller to learn more about these engineering heroes.
What is Project: Keep Ukraine Connected?
The main goal of this project is to provide Ukrainian Internet operators with equipment to keep Ukraine connected to the Internet. We do this by gathering information on what ISPs, networks, and field engineers on the ground need to keep the Internet and essential communication systems running. We have already received many requests for hardware. The list can be found on our website and is updated daily.
We connect vendors and donors directly with the people requesting the equipment in Ukraine. I drove the first truck full of equipment to Ukraine on the 13th of April. As the volume of requested and supplied hardware grows, we are working to establish a more sustainable flow with a warehouse and logistics in Poland and a logistics chain to Ukraine.
What Equipment is Ukraine in Need of?
With so many sites and PoPs destroyed, there is a need for many different types of hardware. We need to understand that the networks in place were modern and high-speed networks. We aim to replace the hardware initially used.
Here is a list of the most requested items:
- Fiber repair tools (splicers, cleavers)
- Power generators
- Wifi access points
- Wifi P2P systems
- Access switches
- Core switches
- Q/SFP modules
Regarding the switches and routers - they can use everything that has 1GE ports or faster. 10/100/400GE would be preferred. If you have anything to contribute, please contact us. You can also donate money so that we can buy Splicers directly here in the EU.
Who is the "Task Force" Made up of?
We are a team of five in the Task Force: Corinne Pritchard, Nathalie Trenaman, Sander Steffann, Jan Žorž, and myself. All of us have a long track record in the technical community.
After a Global NOG Alliance board call in March, we decided we wanted to help our Internet community members in Ukraine. The GNA board believes that helping operators in distress is within the scope of our not-for-profit organization, so we unanimously decided to create this "Keep Ukraine Connected Task Force."
Why Was This Important?
Our IT/ Tech Community is one big Family. We don't think in colors, we don't think in races or genders, we don't think in borders. Anyone who works in our industry is a pioneer. We travel from event to event, from PoP to PoP and we always meet new people. Strangers become friends. Competitors become friends. And anyone who needs help should get it. As I always say, "I love and live our community! It's my second family!"
What is Currently Happening with the Internet in Ukraine?
Words can't explain what is happening in Ukraine. I'd rather share a few statements from our Ukrainian Internet Service Provider friends.
Sadly, we receive messages like this daily:
"During the war with Russia, we lost 32 PoP in our region, and most of our equipment there was destroyed and intentionally damaged during the hostilities by Russian troops. (As a result) a lot of backbone and broadband/PON fiber cables have been cut off and other damage to our network has been done. People in the whole Zaporizhzhiya area are waiting for the Internet access to be restored like a breath of fresh air."
"After all, much equipment cannot be purchased in Ukraine today, as warehouses have been destroyed by shelling and rocket attacks."
What Other Benefits Has This Project Had?
The project has managed to get many people to realize how quickly war can ensure that a country can be partially offline. The project has also helped show many people how important the Internet is for communication. In a disaster, it is the primary communication platform for everyone, regardless of whether the news is shared or whether someone wants to communicate with someone else to check up on their safety.
In addition, this project has helped bring together people who didn't know each other before and work toward the same goal. And that is an indescribable feeling. Beyond borders: only because of the Internet is this possible! What the Task Force has created since mid-March is incredible. Everyone on the team is available and active all day. And for that, I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the team once again.
How Can People Get Involved?
You can donate money via Paypal or wire transfer. When you want to donate some equipment - drop us an email at: [email protected], and we will create an account in our GNA Supply/Demand Database.
We publish daily the exact list of requests from operators from Ukraine - so if you have something to donate from that list, please let us know.
How Do You Ensure the Equipment Reaches the Right People?
Indeed, a very good question. But, of course, it is difficult to establish a "level of trust" with people you have never met before. But after a few days, we established a good relationship with the following friends from Ukraine.
I believe that we have formed a good team with these local colleagues, who we can trust so that every sponsored piece of hardware arrives where needed.
The Ukraine Ministry for Digital Transformation, Ukraine Internet Association (INAU), Ukrainian Internet Association, DEPS, and APPK issued press releases and they are working with us on this mission.
This strong cooperation with respected organizations inside Ukraine makes us confident that donated equipment goes into the right hands.
Why Would you Encourage Others to Get Involved?
We are one big family in our industry. I've had years where I've traveled so much that I've seen some others at conferences more often than my wife! And that's what our industry is like and family helps each other.
I became the proud father of a daughter in October 2020. And what has been happening in Ukraine since February 24, 2022, can happen very quickly anywhere. From my home, this war is just 950 km away! I have attended some ENOG conferences and have friends in Ukraine who also work in the tech/ internet industry. The commitment from all over the world to help makes me very grateful.
How Long Will you Keep this Project Going?
I'm pretty sure we've just laid a foundation here. Our current goal is to find more partners. We are looking for partners, such as logistics companies, that could enable us to pick up the equipment from donors. We are also looking for partners with warehouses in Poland to have the goods delivered there and other partners to bring the equipment from Poland to Ukraine. Currently, we have the problem that men are not allowed to leave the country.
I can transport goods to Ukraine and come back to Europe. But I love my work at Flexoptix and would hate to drive a truck my whole life. :-)
What Has Surprised You About Starting this Project?
We were in Poland during customs clearance (in front of the last barrier to Ukraine). And then, I saw women who came from Ukraine with babies, toddlers, and teenagers to find refuge in Europe. And then I realized that this woman and these children had to leave their husband and father in Ukraine because he is not allowed to leave the country! So, it is uncertain that this woman and these children will ever again embrace her husband and father. At that moment, I started to cry because it could have been my wife Claudia and also my daughter Phibie!
You can find more information about Project: Keep Ukraine Connected here.