Connecting hope: TSF continues to provide support to Ukraine one year on
Emmanuel Jean, head of communication at Télécoms Sans Frontières, looks back on how the organisation has helped the people of Ukraine and how it continues to provide support on the ground.
In February 2022, after months of escalating tensions, Russia invaded Ukraine, initiating a war that would lead to more than 8,300 innocent Ukrainian civilians losing their lives. This war gave rise to Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recorded more than eight million refugees from Ukraine were living in Europe as of March 2023, which amounts to about 20% of Ukraine’s population.
Since February 2022, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) has been working to address the connectivity needs of refugees within Ukraine and its neighbours. This gives these people access to information and the ability to reconnect with loved ones, work remotely and even study. The role of technology in providing humanitarian aid is often overlooked but is integral in allowing victims to regain control of their lives.
Providing satellite connectivity to NGOs
TSF’s work began when by providing emergency telecom equipment to the other humanitarian organisations on the ground in Ukraine. Shelling during the conflict caused, and is still causing, significant damage to the country’s power infrastructure leading to more frequent and longer-lasting outages. This also meant that the communication networks fell down frequently.
Consequently, organisations asked TSF for advice on emergency connectivity, as communications are an essential part of providing support. To resolve these issues, TSF provided satellite connectivity to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the scene, and provided training on the use of this equipment should anything go wrong in TSF’s absence.
Installing Wifi connectivity on bus convoys
When the victims of the Ukraine conflict cross its borders, they seek safe places to take temporary refuge. This often creates unstable environments, and in some cases led to the development of illegal networks that put women and children in danger.
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration worked alongside Moldovia’s and Romania’s civil protection teams to set up daily bus convoys that created a safer environment for refugees to be securely transported to Romania. These trips were a stressful time for individuals who were forced to leave their families in Ukraine behind. To alleviate this stress, TSF installed 4G routers on these buses, allowing people to reconnect with their loved ones and look up information to help inform them about the next leg of their journeys.
Poland’s information diffusion initiative
The UN reported that Poland is the European country that is receiving the highest number of refugees from Ukraine. Most of these individuals were forced to flee their homes at a moment’s notice and lacked the essential information they needed to travel to safety. In order to provide them with up-to-date, relevant information, TSF launched an information diffusion project. This basically involved setting up remotely managed digital displays that provide individuals with reliable information about journeys.
The network of displays can be kept up to date as the low bandwidth required allows more information to be sent to the devices. This enables reliable information from different sources to be centralised and made available to the refugees in a clear way. The universality of the devices is also an important feature, as it means the system is compatible with conventional television screens, regardless of location. An online information management platform enables TSF to deploy multiple devices and reach a broader audience. The system is low maintenance and cost-effective, which is ideal for an NGO such as TSF.
On the ground, this initiative enabled 92% of the individuals that viewed the information to learn new and essential information, and 60% to make important decisions based on the information they learned.
Connecting refugees in shelters to their loved ones
In Vinnytsia, TSF worked to provide Wifi coverage in centres for refugees. Some of these shelters were connected to the internet but lacked the means to distribute this connectivity to the people in them.
TSF provided internet availability in the three most critical shelters by installing network equipment and access points on every floor of each shelter. This allowed between 150 and 250 refugees in each to contact families and search for relevant online content, and enabled children to access resources so they could continue their education remotely.