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Vodafone Ukraine and UNHCR cooperate to give free access to mobile communications to the most vulnerable in east Ukraine

May 5, 2020. Kyiv, Ukraine – In April 2020, Vodafone Ukraine and UNHCR agreed to cooperate and support conflict-affected persons in east Ukraine by providing them with free mobile phone credit. Based on the data provided by UNHCR, Vodafone Ukraine made available free talk time to 2,489 people suffering from the effects of armed conflict and restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Ukraine. This will allow people, especially those whose mobility is limited, to stay connected without further depleting their limited resources.

Since April 24, 2,489 people living in isolated villages along the contact line in the east of Ukraine have received 1000 free minutes within Ukraine or a monthly package of services (unlimited calls within Vodafone Ukraine and 500 Mb of Internet).

The protracted nature of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine has led to a widespread humanitarian crisis, with 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the seventh year of hostilities. The introduction of quarantine measures to overcome the spread of Covid-19 has created new challenges.

Arecent report published by UNHCR on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on 119 isolated villages near the contact line in Donbas showed that around 51 lack access to markets, and 71 localities have no public transport functioning because of quarantine. Due access to credits (scratch cards) have become a challenge.

«During challenging times of coronavirus pandemic, it is very important to support the most vulnerable. In isolated villages, 41% of household members are over 60 years of age, 13% are persons with disabilities and many have chronic diseases. They very much depend on mobile phone communication particularly where there are no pharmacies, grocery shops or clinics. Also, for many, mobile communication currently is the only way to communicate with their doctors, government agencies, volunteer organizations, and most importantly, their families», - said Pablo Mateu, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine.

«From the very beginning of quarantine measures’ introduction Vodafone Ukraine helps its customers to remain connected and provides charity initiatives. The general charges of the company made UAH 63 million for today. We provided free access to popular messengers, entertaining and educational services for all clients, gave physicians free connection and internet, spent UAH 33 million on lung ventilators and personal protective equipment for the hospitals of Ukraine, etc», - said Olga Ustynova, the CEO of Vodafone Ukraine. And added: «We are pleased to respond to UNHCR's request and help residents of isolated villages to contact their physician in case of poor wellbeing and stay in touch with relatives».

UNHCR Ukraine has been supporting the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations in east Ukraine through the provision of shelter repairs and non-food items as well as legal assistance and other forms of protection. Thanks to the protection monitoring conducted jointly with NGO partner organization Proliska, UNHCR identified the need for enhanced communication credit in the times of COVID-19.

The vast majority of residents in those settlements use the mobile services of Vodafone. Due to the lack of internet access, mobile account refill terminals and the ability to purchase a recharge card, people residing in isolated villages have great difficulty in depositing funds into their mobile phone accounts. Therefore, the management of Vodafone Ukraine has given people additional, free talk time during the period of quarantine.