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Keeping Ukraine connected: Stories from our Instant Network volunteers

22 Mar 2022Vodafone Foundation news
6 minute read

These are distressing times in Europe. While Vodafone doesn’t have any employees in Ukraine, our thoughts are with all of those affected by the war.
 
For our communities, we want to help in the way we know how.

A team of Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network Emergency Response volunteers from Vodafone UK, Vodafone Greece, Vodafone Hungary, Vodafone Ziggo, Vodafone Romania and Vodafone Portugal are working to provide immediate charge and connectivity for rapidly rising numbers of Ukrainian refugees arriving at the borders of Romania and Hungary.

In Hungary, the team have established Instant Wi-Fi a transit centre in Barabas, Instant Charge at Zahony train station, and connected East Station in Budapest, as they await approval to deploy in West Station.

An emergency response team of volunteers from the UK, Portugal, Holland and Romania have been deploying Instant Wi-Fi and Instant Charging kits in Siret and Radauti, Northern Romania. The equipment enabled communication for Ukrainian refugees, volunteers, NGOs and the authorities working to support those in need. 10 sets of 30 port Instant Charge units have also been shipped to UNHCR, Romania, for onward transport and deployment in Moldova. 

The following stories are from our Instant Network Emergency Response employee volunteers, whose hard work is helping keep those affected safe and connected.

<em>Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Emergency Response volunteers in Hunga</em>ry.

Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Emergency Response volunteers in Hungary.

Chris

The reality of the refugee crisis really sunk in at Barabás for me. I was working on installing Instant Wi-Fi when I came across a lady and her child crying, inconsolably. She had just arrived at the centre having just crossed the border. She had spent days getting to the crossing point with her father and child. She was able to cross with her child, but her father was sent back to fight, as he was under 60.

I felt proud to be part of a community of volunteers offering skills from their day job to help the Ukrainian people. There were doctors, counsellors, cooks priests, drivers and an army of people bringing supplies, and then there was Vodafone Foundation installing Wi-Fi and charging, giving the refugees the ability to stay in touch with loved ones back home.

<em>East Station in Budapest</em>

East Station in Budapest

Harm

I have been setting up Instant Wi-Fi with the team in Beregsurány. It’s like our normal job; we’re here to build a strong network. But as soon as I paused to watch the families arriving without their fathers or husbands, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is really happening – right here, right now - and it makes you feel like crying.

Today we have installed free Instant Wi-Fi in Barabás, another entry point for refugees coming from Ukraine to Hungary. I had a brief chat with a mother and daughter. They had just arrived with their Labrador, Balora. Her husband did not travel with them. The question, “how are you?” did not fit, so I asked, ‘How is Balora doing?’. She answered, ‘it is not good, but it is as good as it can get.’

Some people asked me why we are here to deliver free Wi-Fi. The refugees that have fled Ukraine don’t know what’s happening to their son, husband, neighbour, niece, nephews, friends from school… they look at their phones, tears in their eyes, every five minutes. They search for news, for rumours, hoping for a message that will help them find their way into an uncertain future.

<em>Vodafone Foundation Instant Network volunteers working together to set up the Wi-Fi network</em>

Vodafone Foundation Instant Network volunteers working together to set up the Wi-Fi network

Jeroen

This mission is not like anything we have experienced before… we have been working on transit locations where hundreds of refugee arrive by trains from Ukraine every hour. Transiting through these railway stations, registering their entry to the EU in order to continue their journey to safety. Some meet a friend or family member at the railway station, they embrace while tears of pain and happiness roll over their faces.

Everybody was offered food, drinks and other primary needs from the charities, however most refugees are seeking connectivity to stay in contact with their loved ones. Phones in their hands searching for Wi-Fi, looking for options to travel further, making calls and share location details. Really simple needs, but so important.

<em>Vodafone Foundation Instant Network volunteers</em>

Vodafone Foundation Instant Network volunteers

Dimitris

A lady around 60 was in a bed in the help centre, crowded with refugees. She was crying and she could hardly breathe. I didn’t know her; I didn’t even know her story. But it was easy to understand. In her eyes you could see the disaster of war.

Later on, she talked to me. She couldn't speak English, but she wanted to know what we were doing there. I tried to explain. Her eyes filled with tears as she showed me a picture on her mobile of dead bodies, covered with bags in the middle of a bombarded street. They were her relatives. I was shocked. I couldn’t say anything. She touched my arm, looked into my eyes, and in this way, she thanked me for what we were doing.

<em>Testing WiFi with volunteer organisations in Siret, Romania</em>

Testing WiFi with volunteer organisations in Siret, Romania

Ricardo

Our days were filled with contradictory feelings. We saw mothers and children arriving at the border, having left their homes and families carrying just a small bag and an empty blank look in their eyes. This contrasted with the beautiful work of the several NGOs providing food, warm shelter, medical assistance, translation services and entertainment to small kids. And then there was us, setting up the free Wi-Fi, trying our best to send a message of dignity and hope in humanity to these people.

At the other location where we set up Wi-Fi, a just-built refugee camp with the capacity to shelter hundreds, we did our usual work as engineers, making the technology work as perfectly as possible. But deep down, still wishing no refugee would end up having to sleep there and use the system we built.

On one side, we felt a sense of defeat that all this is really happening - and on the other, the hope that our small contribution will make a difference.

<em>Ricardo and Jo</em>

Ricardo and Jo

Jo:

This was my first mission for Vodafone Foundation, so everything was new to me. When we arrived at our first site Vama Siret at the Ukrainian border I was really impressed by the large numbers of volunteers besides Vodafone Foundation, who provided drinks, food, clothes, toys, and even pet food. Kids entertainment and warm tents were also provided to comfort the refugees. There were many people there, from all over Europe.

When we were working at the site, not many refugees were crossing the border; we were told that the week before had been much more crowded. The refugees I saw really made an impression: most of them only carried a single suitcase or some bags – very few possessions. A woman pushed a wheelchair carrying someone I assumed was her mother, and together they had only a trolley and a bag. There were young women with young children, their pale eyes expressing uncertainty, not knowing what to do. Some of them didn’t speak foreign languages, which made communication difficult.

It struck me that while we were able to stay in our comfortable B&B, and would a few days later go back to our families and jobs, the refugees didn’t know where they were going, or when, if ever, they would see their husbands or fathers again. That really hit me, and it convinced me that we had to do whatever it takes to help.

The Vodafone Foundation team was great and worked together very well. I felt proud to be part of this team helping the refugees, and really admired the support and kindness of all the volunteers.

<em>The Instant Network team of volunteers in Romania</em>

The Instant Network team of volunteers in Romania

  • Connectivity
  • Emergency response
  • Social Contract
  • Vodafone Foundation

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