Digitalization in Areas Other Than Oblast Centres: Challenges and Solutions

We have studied what guides the choices of remote community residents in two regions when deciding whether to use public services online or offline, and what needs to be done to make Ukraine’s digital transformation truly inclusive

July 4, 2022

Sharlotta Khmelnytska, a representative of the Ministry of Digital Transformation at an e-services presentation in Kompaniivka, Kirovohrad Oblast.

Photo: Ievhen Hurnyckyi / UNDP in Ukraine

“A bus fare to the community centre has gone up to UAH 80. And you don’t want to go there if you can help it, because of the pandemic. Especially when you can have all of these public services provided online. This is what my daughter does to avoid having to take time off work and stand in lines. But we pensioners can’t keep up with the progress. The text is small, and you don’t know what button to press. And even if your children bought you or gave you their phone, you still have to figure out how to use it! And you want it to be convenient and understandable, and you don’t want to be afraid,” an old lady told UNDP DIA Support Project representatives who, together with a representative of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, had come to a remote village in Novoukrainka Community in Kirovohrad Oblast to present public digital services. This feedback was one of many we heard while on a pilot tour in Mykolaiv and Kirovohrad oblasts.

Digital transformation at the state level is not only about technology, but also about people. About how digitalization fits into the daily routine of a person and a community. Studies in Ukraine show that the acceptance of digital transformation and the development of digital skills vary depending on the region, the size of a populated area, and a person’s sex, age, way of life, and on whether or not a person has a disability.

The UN Development Programme helps the Ministry of Digital Transformation take the needs of various categories of the population into account, and make public services accessible to all. That is why UNDP has engaged the Ukrainian Network of Civil Society Hubs in testing various types of feedback the Ministry of Digital Transformation received from residents of communities that are remote from oblast centres.

What hinders people from using digital services?

“Despite there being digital services, some communities in the region having made use of Internet subventions, and despite having gadgets at home, people still go to the community centre to obtain services,” says Victoria Savchuk, manager of the pilot regional tour and a representative of the Economic Development Agency. “Some people don’t trust online services, while others have real problems connecting their gadgets to the Internet. Therefore, in order to effectively use the opportunity to convey the worries and fears of the region’s residents to the Ministry of Digital Transformation, we first decided to study the reasons behind people’s choices to use offline or online services in the region’s remote communities. This is to understand how digital services can help make the lives of Kirovohrad and Mykolaiv oblast residents more convenient.”

Victoria Savchuk, manager of the pilot regional tour and a representative of the Economic Development Agency

Photo: Sergiy Potushynskyi/ UNDP in Ukraine

More specifically, out of 500 people who were polled near administrative service centres, one out of two respondents has used one of the available public electronic services at least once. At the same time, this figure was much lower for the vulnerable groups in the pilot regions – approximately one out of three (38 percent). The lower level of use of digital opportunities is also evidenced by a national study conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS): only 51 percent of respondents with disabilities said they used the Internet every day, with 28 percent reporting not using it at all. Elderly people use the Internet the least often – 31 percent of those surveyed do it every day, while 46 percent use no Internet at all. (Findings of a survey of the adult population on digital services | United Nations Development Programme ( )

During surveys, focus groups and discussions, respondents named the lack of high-quality Internet, the high cost of gadgets, the lack of digital skills among the elderly population, together with the lack of information about existing services, as obvious barriers to using digital services. Less often people said that it was important for them to have a physical receipt; that they are sometimes afraid of making a mistake in online forms; that they want to receive a service in the usual way; or even that going to an administrative services centre is an opportunity to get out of the house and talk to someone.

On the periphery of digitalization

It was important that the project enabled representatives of the UNDP project and the Ministry of Digital Transformation to come into contact with people, so as to see and feel what place digital transformation has in the life of communities. It is often a place on the periphery, because when surviving – paying for heating or getting access to medical services – is the most priority, people do not look for more efficient ways to get a service from the state, but rather follow the beaten path, which they know is safe. Even if it is longer and more expensive, if you take into account a bus fare, the fear of making a mistake often stops people from using electronic resources.

Presentation of e-services in a poorly heated library in Kirovohrad Oblast

Photo: Ievhen Hurnyckyi / UNDP in Ukraine

In general, life in communities varies greatly: some communities have obtained Internet subventions, their libraries operate as digital education hubs and they have installed access points with free Wi-Fi, while people in other communities, despite hearing about subventions, did not understand how to get them, and they have a poor mobile network, which is offered by just one mobile operator.

It is worth noting that working with regional civil society partners has increased efficiency: often at the beginning of presentations you could see people sitting with their arms crossed and with disbelief in their eyes: what can people from Kyiv know about life over here? However, when regional organizers started talking and sharing their own stories, attitudes changed. This helps you reach out to people by showing them that, for instance, Diia is not a far-off system that was invented in Kyiv, and that an elderly person from their oblast is already using online services. Then people start to share their experiences and their failures, and to express wishes to learn digital skills: they say they want to learn offline with a consultant, and preferably in winter when field work is over.

These specifics of life in various communities are key to introducing, communicating and adapting services. It should be noted that the Ministry of Digital Transformation is also working on this, by developing a department of regional digital transformation. After all, if community heads understand that digitalization entails a new post office, new infrastructure, and a quick way to communicate with the state, they will develop these things in accordance with the needs of the community.

Overcoming the barriers of mistrust

Presentation of e-services in the village of Osytnyazhka in Kirovohrad Oblast

Photo: Ievhen Hurnyckyi / UNDP in Ukraine

The Ministry of Digital Transformation has taken on a difficult task – it is dealing with a double barrier of mistrust: mistrust of digital transformation on the one hand, and mistrust of the state and its services on the other. After all, sweeping changes are taking place in the paradigm of public service provision: from the classic bureaucratic one, where recipients of services were treated only as statistics, to a market-oriented one, where users are already regarded as clients, and to the human-rights-based approach, where recipients of services have rights, and services are designed to take into account the diversity of human needs and vulnerabilities.

In her social and anthropological study called “The Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine,” the American researcher Catherine Wanner points out how complex the perception of the state was in the Soviet period, where there was a stark contrast between “us” and “them”: the opposition of oppressed citizens and the authoritarian state. Some people who lived according to the mantras “I’m the boss, you’re a fool,” “it’s none of my business,” and “sit down and be quiet,” may have retained the feeling of unconditional submission and the hierarchy of ranks, according to which the state system works to preserve itself, rather than pursuing the interests of the people. It is telling that according to a 2021 study of people’s trust in Ukrainian institutions people often distrust the state machinery (government officials): three out of four surveyed people (76 percent) have no trust in them.

Mstyslav Banik, Head of Digital Services Development at the Ministry of Digital Transformation, shared the ministry’s vision: “We’re working to create a digital state that is truly invisible, convenient, and humane. Internet subventions and training sessions offered by the Diia.Digital Education platform seek to overcome problems of infrastructure and lack of knowledge. And the pilot tour has also revealed that people are looking for support and guidance as services go digital. That’s why we’re constantly improving our Diia support service. For example, we’ve recently launched a hotline to provide advice on benefits for internally displaced persons and unemployment benefits.”

A woman shows a screen with a digital passport at an e-services presentation. Kompaniivka, Kirovohrad Oblast

Photo: Ievhen Hurnyckyi / UNDP in Ukraine

For inspiration: the Estonian digital wonder

In Ukraine, Estonia is often cited as an example of successful digitalization. This is a true success story, especially for an EU member state with a population of less than 1.5 million. This is despite the fact that even digitalization experts in Estonia note digital inequality in the country, talking about villagers who make their living by engaging in folk crafts and agriculture, and who, in fact, use no opportunities offered by the network, and who do not accept digital services.

For Ukraine, which until recently had a population of 40 million, compared to Estonia, these obstacles can be easily multiplied by 25. That is why the goal of digitalizing 100 percent of public services by 2024, which the Ministry of Digital Transformation set in 2019, seems particularly ambitious. It is important that this goal is accompanied by comprehensive solutions: in parallel with Internet subventions – which finance the laying of cable Internet to public places in remote communities – the state is implementing a regional digitization project, while also enhancing the capabilities of Diia.Digital Education, which encompasses online educational series and offline hubs – public places where people can learn digital skills from teachers.

Plans for the future

The pilot regional tour has revealed that information about the opportunities provided by the Ministry of Digital Transformation has not always been available to residents of remote communities. And in many communities, where, for example, a library is not heated, and the librarian works for a quarter of full-time pay, it does not seem realistic to additionally burden the employee with training in digital education. That is why it is so important that community heads (the level of trust in whom, according to the 2021 survey, was 50 percent and more) get involved in the introduction of digital solution infrastructure in a way that will solve the community’s problems and make sure that residents obtain information about such solutions.

Although the war, the humanitarian crisis, and the constant threat to the lives and health of Ukrainians have changed the state agenda, the principles of the human-centred approach have remained unchanged. More specifically, the project for providing elderly people with a free smartphone, which President Volodymyr Zelensky announced at the Diia Summit on 8 February 2022, is unlikely to be implemented any time soon. Despite that, it is important that the Ministry of Digital Transformation has retained a comprehensive approach and focus on equal access to digitization, continuing projects on Internet subventions, digital education, feedback collection and support for digital services users so that no one is left behind.


The Digital, Inclusive, Accessible: Support to Digitalisation of Public Services in Ukraine Project (DIA Support Project) is being implemented by UNDP in Ukraine, with financial support from Sweden.