Conflict and the Elderly: Perspectives from Ukraine
Ukraine has more than one million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and the United Nations estimates that 60% of the registered ones are pensioners. Elderly are among the most vulnerable groups and are often neglected in situation of conflict and violence.
Frequently, they have mobility problems and less physical strength to hide, flee or defend themselves from violence. As families and communities disintegrate, elderly might be left behind.
“At first, we heard explosions far away. They started becoming closer and closer. Parts of the centre for elderly people where I lived were destroyed. We are old and it is difficult to move. During the shelling we could not go to the basement, we had to stay in our rooms. It was dangerous,” says Ekateryna, an elderly IDP.
Older people tend to be more emotionally attached to their home town, their neighbourhood and house. Some choose to stay despite the risks or suffer of psychological problems when obliged to leave. “Everyone wants to go home,” Ekateryna claims.
Ekateryna is from Donetsk. Now she lives in a collective centre in Kharkiv. She says although it is not bad to be there, she still wants to go back home. She still has four nephews living in Donetsk region.
Tatiana (72) is from Makiivka, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine, 15 kilometers from Donetsk. She explains that they did not have enough supplies there. “We did not get enough vegetables. Now there is no longer Ukrainian currency there, only Russian. The exchange rate is not good. The prices are high and the level of life is low.”
Her granddaughter and grandson are still in Makiivka region.
“We want to at least to be able to visit our friends and family.” It took 12 hours for her to cross the 300 kilometres between Kharkiv to Makiivka to visit their relatives because of the check points on the way. She explains that humanitarian assistance is important for them, as they are old and do not work anymore. “No one knows when this war will end and when we will be able to go home,” she says.
Nikolay (74) and Lidia (75) are from Donetsk. Their son lives in Crimea and they have not seen him for a long time. “We feel comfortable in Kharkiv, we do not feel any prejudice. We are treated equally, but we wish we could return home. Food is better there.”
They left with nothing because they were evacuated from shelling and they thought that they would be away only for a month. They have been in Kharkiv for a year already.
Anna (72) and Nikolay (75) are retired doctors. Before the conflict started in Ukraine, in April 2014, they lived in Stanytsia Luhanska. After their house was hit by two bombs, they have decided to leave. Now they live in Kharkiv region in a small room in a dormitory and depend on humanitarian aid, support from government and help of friends and family. In the photo above, they are going back home after collecting money from an IOM cash program.
As the Global Action on Aging (GAA), a non-governmental organization with a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council states: The elderly have much to contribute, but they can be especially vulnerable in times of crisis, famine and war. The international community is scarcely aware of the special difficulties faced by older persons in such crises.
The GAA adds that humanitarian and relief agencies, as well as the UN, have developed programs to attend to the needs of children, women, and humanitarian workers, but they have scant knowledge of older persons and virtually no programs or guidelines for their protection. Read the whole document here.