Elon Musk’s Generosity to Ukraine Will Likely Help No One

Musk's Tesla and Starlink have few customers in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX Starlink have few customers in Ukraine and neighboring countries. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, is offering free electric car charging and satellite-based internet services through his companies to help Ukraine refugees flee from Russian invasion. But his generosity will likely benefit few people since the region lacks the infrastructure needed to access those services.

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Musk’s Tesla (TSLA) said on Monday it opened up electric vehicle charging stations for free to non-Tesla vehicles in several countries around Ukraine, including parts of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. Tesla operates a global network of “superchargers” exclusively for Tesla owners. By opening these chargers to non-Tesla EVs, “we hope that this helps give you the peace of mind to get to a safe location,” the company said in a letter to local customers on Monday, reported by the tech news site Teslerati.

Tesla doesn’t officially sell cars or operate charging stations in Ukraine, and superchargers are sparse in neighboring Eastern European countries. Even if there were enough chargers, low EV adoption in the area means that the free service would do little to help refugees. In 2021, there were only about 30,000 electric vehicles on the road in Ukraine, according to the country’s automobile manufacturers association.

At least half a million refugees have fled Ukraine in the past week, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. More than half of them crossed Ukraine’s western border to Poland, where a few might get some use of Tesla’s charging stations. Others have gone to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and other European countries.

Tesla Supercharger (red) and destination charger (gray) map in Eastern Europe. Tesla

Meanwhile, at home, Tesla stock is soaring as the war continues to stoke concerns about the world’s oil supply. Shares jumped 7 percent on Monday as crude oil price surpassed $100 per barrel for the second time in a week, up from $62 a year ago. Tesla shares have rallied 24 percent since the Russian invasion began last Thursday.

Also on Monday, Musk said SpaceX, the space company he also runs, is sending a batch of Starlink terminals to Ukraine to help local communities connect to the company’s satellite-based broadband internet. The help came at the request of Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister, who tweeted at Musk on Saturday and asked him to activate Starlink in Ukraine as the country’s internet infrastructure was damaged during Russia’s military assault. Musk responded that Starlink was active in Ukraine and agreed to send free terminals to the country.

Starlink requires a ground terminal, which costs $499, to connect. The service costs $99 per month. It’s unclear how many active users Starlink has in Ukraine, where the average monthly salary just surpassed $500 in 2021. SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about user numbers by country. Starlink’s Beta service data suggest that the vast majority of the program’s users are based in North America, Western Europe and Australia.

Fedorov tweeted Monday that a truckload of Starlink terminals had arrived in Ukraine.


Elon Musk’s Generosity to Ukraine Will Likely Help No One