America’s richest man appears to be going through something of a public image crisis in Ukraine, with leading public figures across the country accusing Elon Musk of being selfish, ignorant—and an alien, even.
The outpouring of criticism and insults comes days after the Tesla founder said he rejected a request from the Ukrainian military to re-activate his satellite communications system, Starlink, to help with an attack on Russian forces in the Crimean peninsula last year.
Musk, for his part, has blamed the U.S. government, arguing that sanctions against Russia in the Kremlin-occupied region left him with no choice but to deny the request. But prominent Ukrainian politicians, businessmen, and media professionals—who spoke with The Daily Beast about their views on Musk in the aftermath of the Starlink controversy—aren’t quite buying it.
“What Musk has done was an unfriendly act against Ukraine, a present for Putin,” Svyatoslav Dubina, a Ukrainian platoon commander, told The Daily Beast.
Starlink began providing a nationwide service to Ukraine in February 2022, after a Ukrainian minister appealed to Elon Musk for help on Twitter. The service was initially funded by SpaceX, but the Pentagon reached a deal with the company to purchase the Starlink service for Ukraine in June. The service, which provides high-speed internet access to remote areas, has been an invaluable resource for the Ukrainian resistance effort.
“We depend on Starlink. It plays a number one role, together with drones and artillery on the front, in our war against the occupiers,” Serhiy Leschenko, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, told The Daily Beast.
For Garik Korogotsky, one of Ukraine’s leading philanthropists, Musk has gone from being “a hero of Ukraine” to a person he views as “seriously sick with a God complex” after the Crimea ordeal.
“Musk made a fatal mistake, a wrong moral choice,” he said. “Ukraine does not like its dependence on Musk, and the United States should put an end to its dependence on him very soon.”
Some of those on the front lines shared similar concerns: “U.S. law enforcement agencies and courts should be looking into Musk’s influence on the course of history; a private company cannot be controlling the security systems of other countries,” said Dubina, the platoon commander.
Meanwhile, Russia’s state media has been spotlighting Musk’s decision to deny Ukraine’s request in Crimea as a victory for the Kremlin. Shortly after news of the Crimea incident broke, Russian President Vladimir Putin heaped praise on the Tesla founder, likely fueling the outrage against Musk in Ukraine.
Musk “is an active and talented businessman and he is succeeding a lot, including with the support of the American state,” the Russian President said this week. “As far as private business and Elon Musk is concerned, he is undoubtedly an outstanding person.”
Peter Zalmayev, a prominent Ukrainian TV presenter, recently told his viewers that he believes “Musk is influenced by Russian propaganda”—before cracking a joke about Tesla bumper stickers that read: “I bought this car before I knew that Elon was crazy.”
“Every Ukrainian has turned away from Musk.”
Speaking with The Daily Beast, Zalmayev echoed concerns of other Ukrainians who believe it’s “very risky to rely on one individual when it comes to Starlink for Ukraine.”
“As far as the messaging goes, Musk’s voice is so amplified, it is very disturbing. In Ukraine, truth is our key appeal to the world,” he said. “We understand that nations represent their often narrowly divided interests. But the unity around Ukraine’s defense showed that the truth is still there.”
The ex-governor of the Donetsk region, Serhiy Taruta, knows all too well the price Ukraine is paying for Putin’s brutal war after witnessing the destruction of his hometown of Mariupol.
“Musk helped us a lot in the beginning of the war, we should not cross that out and now—and he should come to Ukraine and see with his own eyes the level of destruction,” Taruta told The Daily Beast on Friday. “Over 100,000 people died from Russia’s violence in my home city of Mariupol. Let Musk imagine that one of his 11 kids was kidnapped… that is what we feel, when our territories get occupied.”
Others, like Ivan Petukhov—the Vice President of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which represents 10,000 businessmen across the country—have chalked up the matter to a simple lack of intellect.
“Every Ukrainian has turned away from Musk,” Petukhov told The Daily Beast. “He stabbed us in the back, and he is not smart.”
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