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Unilever Hero Viktoria Voznyuk from Ukraine

Help for consumers, schools and hospitals during lockdown in Ukraine

Unilever Hero Viktoria Voznyuk pursues her purpose during Covid crisis

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During March and April 2020, increasingly severe lockdown restrictions were imposed in Ukraine as the pandemic spread. The country faced the dual challenges of containing the virus and maintaining the economy. “When the pandemic started in Ukraine, we had lots of issues,” says Viktoria Voznyuk, Corporate Affairs Lead, who is based in Kiev. In March 2020, a national emergency was declared, with lockdown measures put in place. The company faced issues of importing, transport, on-shelf availability and more – yet the population still needed to live and eat. Hygiene products were more important than ever.

Getting our products onto the shelves

The route to market was effectively blocked as lockdown took hold. Swift action had to be taken at the interface of company and government, and Viktoria stepped up to the plate. Working with stakeholders in the industry and business associations, she negotiated with all the parties to exempt Unilever from the government restrictions. “I was particularly grateful to the European Business Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine for their support for our business 24/7 and for helping resolve the multiple issues,” she says.

Keeping the business operational took a lot of organisation. Public transport services were halted, for example, and Unilever had to bus employees to the factory. Viktoria and her team had to establish contact with government officials to gain permission for the dedicated buses to operate, and a weekly pass was secured. This and similar problems involved telephone calls, online meetings and regular catch-ups with the authorities.

Her efforts, and those of her colleagues, paid off. Unilever was added to the national list of ‘critical infrastructure’ companies which were allowed to continue their operations during lockdown, ensuring business continuity. So, from the start of lockdown, Unilever’s business processes were able to move forward with only temporary disruption.

Helping schools and hospitals

The Covid crisis hit Ukraine at a time when healthcare reforms were about to take effect. These reforms were suspended but it was a moment when private sector involvement was especially welcome.

Viktoria approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal for product donations. “We provided around 50 hospitals in 24 regions in Ukraine with disinfectants as well as hygiene products,” she says.

After negotiating with the Ministry, Viktoria was able to make direct contact with local government leaders and regional state administrations in 24 areas to deliver the product donations directly to the core hospitals dealing with the infection.

Unilever products, donated to a hospital, being unloaded from a van by two men wearing surgical masks

Schools also benefited. Viktoria worked with Unilever’s local marketing team on a schools initiative. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, Unilever made donations of Domestos and other products to ensure that school students could take their exams in safety. No sooner was the exam season over than the new school year began, so the donations continued, together with a hygiene awareness programme created for children. This extended product donation project reached 2,300 schools and 450,000 school students across the country.

Unilever products, including Domestos, being unpacked in a school classroom

And through a collaboration with UNHCR – the UN refugee agency – donations, which included soap, sanitisers and disinfectants, were also made to displaced and vulnerable groups. The donation programmes secured wide media coverage, which reached around 5 million Ukrainians.

Elderly woman with headscarf receiving a Unilever product donation – part of Unilever’s work with the UN Refugee Agency

Viktoria’s activities this past year accord with her own sense of purpose. “I want to make a really significant change for people, for society and for my country – especially for my country,” she says. “I am one of those lucky people who are doing the things that they really love to do.”