The Best VPNs for Ukraine in 2022 – PCMag


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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created an enormous humanitarian disaster and put millions of Ukrainians in danger. In any time of crisis, but especially in this war, secure access to reliable information is important. Although VPNs can’t protect against every threat, they can be useful for securely accessing the internet. We break down which VPNs provide the best coverage for Ukraine.

A Brief Disclaimer

We can’t claim to be legal experts, nor do we know much about life in a warzone. The situation in Ukraine is fast moving, and the people living through it know what’s safe and legal and what’s not. As with everyone living in challenging situations, you’ll have to use your best judgment when using any sort of communications.

That said, we do know something about VPNs. The first thing to understand is that a VPN can only do so much to protect you. Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible, as this technique can effectively prevent account takeovers when used in conjunction with a complex and unique password from a password manager. Antivirus software can help protect your machine from malicious software that could compromise your privacy. Also, encrypted messaging services such as Signal and WhatsApp ensure that only your intended recipient can read your messages.

Why You Need a VPN in Ukraine

When we interviewed the EFF’s senior staff technologist Bill Budington about the current war in Ukraine, he was unequivocal about the role the internet is playing. “The war on the information front is a major aspect of what is happening on the ground,” Budington said.

Our companion piece on accessing the internet via VPN in Russia covers some of the same issues as this article. In both situations, we assume there is a hostile internet space in which protecting people against surveillance and helping them access real information are key. The difference is that in Russia, censorship is the main problem—though quite possibly not the only one. In Ukraine, accessing the internet safely is the primary concern as Russian forces may be tampering with the infrastructure that supports internet access itself. While there haven’t been reports of attempts by Russia to censor internet access within Ukraine—disinformation is another issue entirely—that could change.

“I think that is going to become an increasingly hostile environment […] for accessing information at all,” said Budington.

Christo Grozev, lead Russia investigator at the investigative journalism site Bellingcat, tweeted that Russian forces appear to be targeting 3G cell towers. More concerning is Grozev’s claim that Russian forces are erecting stingrays.

A stingray is a device intended to intercept cellular communications by mimicking a real cell tower. The name comes from a specific device, but the more general term is IMSI catcher. Such devices can potentially be used to track individual mobile phones and even intercept data.

These and other attacks could put individuals at risk, disrupt or distort communications, and make it difficult to access reliable sources of information. While there is no easy solution for state-sponsored cyberattacks, VPNs could help in some cases.

(Potentially) Securing the Web in Ukraine

A VPN secures your web traffic by creating an encrypted connection between your device and a server controlled by the VPN company. It prevents anyone monitoring your connection from seeing what you’re up to online. It also hides your IP address and makes it harder to trace your online activities back to you.

Note, however, that there are limitations to what a VPN can do against something like an IMSI catcher. These devices gather some information directly from the cellular radio and modem, which wouldn’t be protected by a VPN. A VPN’s best use is for improving privacy online and evading censorship. In our conversation, Budington suggested the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense as a resource for more tools and information.

Most of the time, you’ll want to connect to a VPN server that’s geographically nearby because it results in better performance than connecting to a server far away. All the services listed above have VPN servers within Ukraine.

There are some benefits to connecting to a distant VPN server. If state censorship is an issue, and access to sites with reliable information is blocked, you can use the VPN to tunnel beyond the censors’ reach and access the unfiltered internet. It can also allow you to access local services that may not be available elsewhere. It may help you spoof your location, though with the already-mentioned limitations concerning IMSI devices.

A challenge for any Ukrainian is simply maintaining access the internet for reliable information, as the country’s infrastructure is under constant attack. Although ISPs have worked hard to keep the country’s internet up and running, millions have been displaced and may no longer have reliable access to a laptop or desktop computer. For anyone using only a cellphone, they can also install VPN apps for iPhone or Android and receive the same protection.

Are VPNs Safe to Use?

Under authoritarian regimes, such as Russia’s, it can be difficult to even access a VPN. Moreover, using one could potentially bring unwanted attention from authorities. For now, that doesn’t seem to be the primary concern in Ukraine. One worry, however, is the potential risk that any VPN carries.

Recommended by Our Editors

“Not all VPNs are created equal,” said Budington. “You can have a VPN that sucks up all your information and monitors your browsing habits [or] you can have a VPN that has a reputation for integrity and not keeping logs.”

In PCMag’s reviews, we interview VPN providers to put them on record regarding the efforts they take to protect customer privacy. One thing we look for are third-party audits that review VPN companies’ infrastructure and adherence to policy. Audits, although imperfect, mean you don’t only have to accept the company’s word.

How We Chose Our Top VPNs for Ukraine

To choose which VPNs to recommend to people in Ukraine, we began by pulling a list of VPNs we had previously determined had a diverse geographic presence. From there, we verified with each service’s documentation whether they had VPN servers in Ukraine. We then narrowed the list to ten based on our hands-on testing. The list is ordered by the number of servers each service has in Ukraine, where available. For those cases in which server numbers are lacking (from Surfshark VPN on in the list), we’ve ordered the list by how well the VPN service scored in our hands-on testing and analysis. Note that we are not able to test any of these VPNs for performance within Ukraine.

During any disaster, resources can be scarce. Some of the VPNs selected above do offer free subscription tiers, but most of them limit the amount of data subscribers can use and what servers are available. ProtonVPN is our top pick for free VPNs since it places no limit on data use, but it does limit server access. Our list of free VPNs and cheap VPNs have several other choices that won’t break the bank.

We have several Editors’ Choice winners in this category, but not all of them made the cut for this list because they lacked servers in Ukraine. If local access isn’t a concern for you, all our Editors’ Choice VPNs in our best VPN roundup are excellent choices. Both Mullvad VPN and IVPN are particularly relevant, as both have strong privacy and transparency practices, and both employ a similar privacy-protecting account system. They also accept cash subscription payments sent to their respective HQs and cost significantly less than competitors.

(Editors’ Note: While they may not appear in this story, IPVanish, and StrongVPN are owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)




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