Dmytro is a Ukrainian from Kyiv, and he and his family are among millions of people displaced and suffering since Russia invaded their country. “I was in Kyiv when the first wave of explosions surged across Ukraine and we left the city with nothing but our backpacks,” he says. Yet among the items he managed to grab before evacuating were a Raspberry Pi Zero computer and an e-ink screen – an odd decision, he admits, but one that has proven to be very useful.
Getting air raid alerts
By using those two components, Dmytro has created an air raid siren monitor that shows which parts of the country are being shelled. He says he never imagined that he would ever make such a device, but the war has shifted the paradigm of what is a must, a necessity, or useful. “I know where all the load-bearing walls in my apartment are,” he laments, saying he now looks at old concepts in completely new ways.
“When an air raid or shelling starts, we usually hear sirens going off, signalling that citizens should go to a bomb shelter or take cover,” he explains, of his motivation to create the device. “I noticed that my family would try and get additional information on the probability of air raids before going out by browsing through media and other channels. I thought it would help to have a device that’s always on that could show this information about active air raid sirens across Ukraine.”
To do this, he turned to the popular instant messaging platform Telegram. “It has features resembling a social media platform,” Dmytro says. “One of these is ‘Channels’ – pretty much a one-to-many information distribution platform. You subscribe to a channel you’re interested in and get messages with links, photos and videos from people who run it. Telegram became a way for officials to notify where air raid sirens start and stop.”
When Dmytro began his project, the e-ink screen was already connected to Raspberry Pi Zero. The idea was to code a program that would monitor and parse messages in Telegram and create a visual snapshot of the current situation across Ukraine.
“Not only does it show regions where the air raid sirens are active, it helps to predict a potential air raid by looking at the spread and progression of the attack – chances are that if multiple regions are hit, it will spread,” Dmytro says.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. “The problem was that, even though I had a preconfigured microSD card installed in Raspberry Pi Zero, I needed to change the configuration in the ‘boot’ drive and a card reader wasn’t something I considered essential when packing my bag!
I ended up putting the microSD card into a family member’s phone and using a text editor to configure the cmdline.txt and config.txt to SSH into Raspberry Pi Zero through the USB connection.”
The project has also led to the creation of a mobile-first online map at sirens.in.ua. “It’s hard to get Raspberry Pi in Ukraine if you don’t already have one,” Dmytro reveals.
So far, the device has proven useful. “Last weekend, we were getting ready to go to the shop but, based on the data from the device, we postponed this and the air raid siren went off ten minutes later,” he says. Since posting about the monitor online, lots of other Ukrainians have also created their own version. “I have open-sourced the code and the instructions. I hope it keeps people safe during these unthinkable times.”
Find the code for the Air Raid Monitor on Dmytro’s GitHub page.