EU Ukraine

EU must keep people in and leaving Ukraine as safe, secure, connected as possible

Update: September 15, 2022 — Access Now supports the European Union’s move to bring Ukraine into the European free roaming area. This step will lift a financial burden off the shoulders of numerous people affected by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, support access to information, and open avenues for connections between, and among, families and communities.

Update: March 3, 2022 — Following Access Now’s open letter, several members of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association have taken a range of options to support people in Ukraine:

  • Free international calls to Ukraine
  • No roaming charges with Ukraine
  • Distribution of SIM cards to refugees arriving in neighbouring countries
  • Free WiFi in refugee camps
  • Activation of the “SMS donation” function to the benefit of organisations supporting refugees
  • Including Ukrainian channels in IPTV packages for no added fee

A non-exhaustive list of European operators that took measures as of March 3, 2022 include: Deutsche Telekom Group; Orange Group; Telefónica/O2; BT; Telia Company; A1 Telekom Austria Group; Telenor Group; Proximus Group; KPN; Vodafone Group; Vivacom; TIM Telecom Italia; Altice Portugal; Swisscom; GO Malta;  CYTA; Orange Romania; and BH Telecom.

Access Now is pleased to see these actions. However, would like to see them extended to more members, and to have data costs lifted as people are relocating and need to contact families, authorities, and organisations, including via apps. Additionally, Access Now would like SIM registration requirements to be lifted for people arriving from Ukraine who may not have the necessary documentation to fulfill these.

March 2, 2022: The European Union must do everything in its power to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people affected by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and work with tech platforms and telecoms operators to uphold connectivity, access to accurate information, data protection, and non-discrimination at the border.

“Russia has launched a full scale war on Ukraine. The European Union must immediately use its full capacity to help keep people as safe, secure, and connected as possible,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech-Legal Counsel at Access Now. “We must empower people to access accurate information, protect the privacy of millions as they escape, keep those on the move connected to their loved ones, and do everything possible to treat everyone fairly.”

Through an open letter, Access Now has laid out clear actions to support people affected by the war on Ukraine, including by:

  • Connectivity: Asking telecom operators and internet providers to protect infrastructure, waive charges for all communications from and to Ukraine, lift SIM registration for anyone arriving in the EU territory from Ukraine, and boost network capacity.
  • Online platforms: Keeping platforms and communications services available in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine; continuing the demonetisation of certain actors spreading disinformation; and, in compliance with the rule of law, upholding the suspension of Russia Today, Sputnik, and key Russian state-sponsored propaganda actors from online platforms, including in Russia.
  • Data protection: Ensuring that the EU border agency and national measures to welcome people fleeing into the EU abide by data protection rules and calling on tech and telecoms companies to limit data collections of people leaving Ukraine and to not comply with Russian data localisation requirements to avoid persecution of dissidents and journalists.
  • Non-discrimination at the border: Reversing actions that prevent people from accessing services — such as via freezing assets — due to their nationality; and keeping the borders open for all people leaving Ukraine, including third-country nationals and people of colour living and studying in Ukraine.

“In times of crises, people need to stay connected — to each other, and to life-saving information,” said Fanny Hidvegi, Europe Policy Director at Access Now. “Russia’s war on Ukraine is affecting millions of people, and the European Union has both the power and the responsibility to ensure the internet and all telecommunications are accessible for all. Decisions and interventions must come now.”

Read the full letter.