Strong Together: Vilnius meets coronavirus pandemic with solidarity

Mon 23/03/2020 by Richard Wilkinson
Strong Together: Vilnius meets coronavirus pandemic with solidarity

Coronavirus pandemic has brought Lithuania under quarantine. But volunteers of Vilnius, as well as multiple entrepreneurs and businesses have come together to help the doctors and people in risk groups, serving as an example of what a united city can do to help those in need.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lithuanian government has imposed quarantine – and people in the capital Vilnius reacted with solidarity and speed. In the first week of quarantine thousands of volunteers offered their help, entrepreneurs have raised large sums for medical equipment using just online messaging, and telecommunications companies provided resources to coordinate the joint effort. The ongoing efforts of Vilnius municipality to build a tech-savvy and focused community of citizens also proved to be crucial in the face of crisis.

The force that is uniting the biggest numbers of volunteers is the municipality-inspired group Gedimino Legionas (Gediminas Legion) that is raising and coordinating initiatives of direct support. The name of the group refers to Gediminas, who was one of the most important rulers of Lithuania, the founder of Vilnius in the 14th century and the symbol of its historical strength. Since then the city went through many challenges and crises, from fires and enemy onslaughts in the 16-18th centuries to Soviet occupation in the 20th century.

Gedimino Legionas was born last year, as an initiative to resist a potential hybrid war by “hunting down” fake news, applying one’s IT or language skills or any other personal abilities. While last year’s events were just a test, this time, in the face of the pandemic, the Legion is actually using everything it was built to do. Volunteers are joining into groups and are taking up any tasks that they can – such as taking care of senior citizens by helping them with shopping for food and medicine. Seniors are informed about the need to stay at home through different communication channels: posters, flyers and even drones.

Providing help to overloaded medical staff, volunteers of Gedimino Legionas are raising funds for protective equipment or respirators or volunteering to walk dogs of doctors and nurses. Gedimino Legionas constantly refreshes the information on what needs to be done. The legion has already attracted more than 3000 volunteers and this number grows every day.

It is not the only effort of volunteer coordination. Competing telecommunications providers Telia, Bitė and Tele2 have joined other businesses and public institutions in organizing the national volunteer coordination center Strong Together. Both volunteers and help-seekers can register through the website. Then the coordination team matches offers and requests, such as food aid to those who need it or being a courier with one’s own car.

When it comes to individual entrepreneurs and businesses, one of the first responders was serial entrepreneur Vladas Lašas, who offered to organize a hackathon  Hack the Crisis. This virtual hackathon is taking place in Vilnius this weekend. Participants of the three-day event will generate innovative solutions for healthcare, emergency response, economy and other spheres of life affected by quarantine. Volunteers from the Lithuanian government, corporates and startup community are helping to coordinate the activities.

Many businesses direct their efforts towards providing support for doctors and medical staff as healthcare institutions are experiencing overload and doctors lack surgical masks and equipment. In a matter of hours entrepreneurs raised around EUR 600,000 through online communication. Well-known journalists and the tech community joined the fundraising efforts using online messaging, social media posts and specially created websites. Fundraising efforts still continue and the funds are constantly increasing.

Larger businesses extended an offer of free internet services to all medical facilities, while real estate developers MG Baltic Group purchased and donated the much-needed lung ventilation equipment to Vilnius city medical facilities.

There are many more businesses that donate their products or adapt production lines to the new situation. Distilleries and chemical plants are using their lines to produce disinfectants. Popular restaurants are providing free food for medical staff, servicemen, volunteers and isolated people. Fashionable clothing designer Robertas Kalinkinas is producing substitute surgical masks for doctors lacking professional protective equipment.

All the initiatives of the Vilnius business community are impossible to list. New ideas are brought forward every day. The city demonstrates the same resistance to crisis that it has proved repeatedly throughout its history, and shows the world what a strong community can do in the face of crisis.

“I am very proud to see my city showing such unity and solidarity. I think it really shows the spirit of Vilnius,” said Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of Vilnius. “We are the city of personalities. But in times of crisis we come together and support each other. That’s when we show our real force.”


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