Teens teach pensioners to stay in touch in Ukraine

A team of teenagers are offering digital courses for pensioners who struggle to keep in touch with loved ones during lockdown

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
24 December 2020

Lockdown has made keeping in touch more important than ever. But for 18-year-old Viktoria Konashchuk from Ukraine, whose grandparents do not know how to use technology, it has been impossible. 

Viktoria is not alone. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, over half of all Ukrainians have lower-than-average digital literacy. That is why she and a group of friends have been trying to solve the problem with a new initiative called ITbabushka ‘(ITGranny)’.

Since August 2020, Ukrainian youngsters have been taking part in the UPSHIFT project, run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and designed to build skills and opportunities for young people. Five teams received money to help them implement their ideas.

ITbabushka, which received UAH 40,000, offers digital courses for pensioners.


Grandma joined the chat

The idea first materialised after Viktoria’s family arranged a surprise trip to Europe for her grandparents.

“Before the trip, it turned out that they did not know how to use Viber, Google Maps, or even take photos,” she says. “And I urgently had to teach them everything in two days.”

Viktoria realized that she could teach grandmothers all over Ukraine to use smartphones.

Her classmate Viktoria Totska conducted a small survey to find out what the demand was for technology courses among the elderly.

“It turned out that many people really want to communicate with their children and grandchildren,” she says. “But they are afraid to press a button on a smartphone and do not want to pester their relatives with requests to explain. So, we decided to shoot clear and simple video lessons.”

A third participant, 17-year-old Yaroslava Budiakivska, became the voice and face of the project.

The five-lesson beginner’s course that the team posted to https://www.instagram.com/itbabushka/ included topics on creating new contacts, using voice search, using a smartphone camera and Viber.

The first users were friends of the team.

“We have a feedback form on our website,” says Viktoria Konashchuk. “And the users started telling us that we explain things too quickly. We realized that the lessons need to be re-filmed.”

Then, by accident, she came across a link to the UPSHIFT project and immediately submitted an application.


Mentors light the way

As well as UAH 40,000, ITbabushka also received support from a mentor.

“The mentor helped us a lot to sort out financial issues,” explains Viktoria Konashchuk. “To estimate costs, draw up a draft contract for services and prepare statutory documents. Without his support, it would have been difficult for us to do all of this."

With the money, the team bought a camera, a microphone, sound equipment and everything they needed to shoot high-quality video lessons. They also gained a fourth member of the team, 17-year-old Viktoria Tereshchenko, who drafted lesson outlines and developed a chatbot for the website.

Today, anyone who wants to improve their digital literacy can find a free, improved course of five video lessons on ITbabushka’s website. For a small fee, users can also buy the Basic Course that will teach them how to use online maps, YouTube and the Tabletochki website.


Over 200 people already use the service. In addition, the team is now developing an Advanced Course that will teach users how to pay for utilities online and register on social networks.

“My children and grandchildren live in Kyiv, but we communicate on Viber almost every day,” says one of the website users, pensioner Olena Ivanivna, who lives in eastern Ukraine. “It keeps me from feeling lonely. The lessons on the website were clear, useful and simple for me. I have mastered the voice search, it is more convenient than typing manually.”

Viktoria Konashchuk reads every review on the website and often asks her own grandparents for advice on how to improve the course in future.

“Now, during quarantine, it is better that our grandparents stay at home,” she says. "So that, for example, they do not contract the COVID-19 virus in queues while paying for utilities. Therefore, our lessons help them stay at home, but also stay in touch with us.”