In their own words: A lifeline for older people affected by conflict
Older people living close to the front line of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine have seen their local area devastated by the fighting, with supply lines cut off and many younger people abandoning the area.
They told us why our project there with our partner, HelpAge International in Ukraine, is a lifeline to older people like them, and how it helps them to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Lyudmila is 82 and lives in the village of Katerinovka, close to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. She worked as a medical statistician for 46 years before retiring. Her husband died due to a respiratory tract problem caused by working in the mines. She suffers from bad hip joints and her health began to deteriorate a lot in 2014, after the conflict broke out.
“I live almost on the front line. There are no shops and no post office. Ambulances do not come. There is no light, water or way to communicate with the surrounding world. There are practically no people – young people have left, and there are fewer and fewer older people every day.”
In 2019, Lyudmila was included in HelpAge International’s project to organise volunteers to visit older people, supported by the Ukrainian Humanitarian Fund. Lyudmila says that the arrival of these volunteers has made her want to continue living. They give her constant support, and tell her how to prevent flu and COVID-19. With the ongoing shelling, it is important for older people to understand that people are there who are ready to help them.
All the volunteers had to restructure their work during the pandemic. They learned about what protective equipment they had to use and the correct measures to prevent infection.
"In a pandemic, people treat us differently. We must behave properly. Before coming to a beneficiary, we must wear gloves and masks," said the volunteer Marina.
Through the project, Lyudmila received psychosocial support, a new cane to help her move around outside, a hygiene kit and personal protective equipment.
"I want to express my gratitude to the volunteers! Thank you for being with us all the time, for your support and care, for your ability to listen and help in difficult moments, for just being there in my life and making it better. With all my heart, thank you," Lyudmila said.
83-year-old Leonid also lives in Katerinovka. He is married and has a daughter, but she lives outside of Ukraine, and unfortunately doesn’t visit her parents. Leonid spent most of his career working in the Gorskaya mine. He has many health problems, including asthma caused by working in the mine and a heart condition, and living close to the conflict causes him constant stress.
Since 2019, HelpAge volunteers have been visiting Leonid, which makes him very happy. The volunteer always listens, provides support, and distracts him from life's problems. They tell stories and laugh together, and the volunteer gives him important information about his health and pension.
"So many changes have happened lately. It's hard for me to figure things out. I'm really worried about getting my pension on time so that I can buy food and medicine and pay for utilities," he said.
With the beginning of quarantine in Ukraine, all volunteers gave increased attention to protecting older people from COVID-19.
"I learned detailed information about coronavirus pandemic from Marina, a volunteer at HelpAge International. She told me about the first signs and symptoms of the disease, preventive measures and personal hygiene. Now I strictly adhere to these rules," he said.
"Thanks to the help of the volunteers, who also provided us with masks and disinfectant, I do not feel so scared. I feel protected.
"You need to understand that the conflict has lasted for more than five years, and then along came the coronavirus. We older people are recognised as being a high-risk group, and the threat of infection is much higher for us than for others. Quarantine is not easy for everyone, and older people are the hardest hit. We are mostly law-abiding, so we just sit there and don't stick our noses out. It is good that we are supported by volunteers. Their help is especially needed in this very difficult period. It is only thanks to the special attention and care from volunteers HelpAge that we do not panic."
Vasily was born in April 1933 in Lviv, Ukraine. He became an orphan at age nine and left to serve in the army as an aircraft mechanic when he was 18 years old. After spending four years in the army, he moved to Donbass where he met his wife Anna, with whom he had two children, both of whom have since moved to Russia. He worked down the mine and later became a medic. He says;
“Everything would have been fine, but then the war came, which brought suffering and worsened my health. I am disabled, I see almost nothing. Once a shell hit our house and damaged a wall. We can’t even go hide in the basement, it is too hard for us."
In addition to his own poor health and loss of eyesight, Vasily's wife Anna has diabetes, asthma and cancer. But HelpAge International organised for a volunteer called Lyudmila to visit Vasily. She regularly comes to his home and provides emotional support. She told them about medical reforms, how to eat healthily and prevent disease in later life, and listened to their stories about when they were young. He received a hygiene kit and was referred to another organisation for financial support. His family look forward to Lyudmila's visits to find out the news and share their troubles.
“Only your support and our love help us to survive. It is so good that such an organisation works in our area," he said.
More from our work in Ukraine
Two more older people affected by the conflict in Ukraine tell us what our support means to them in the time of COVID-19.
Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.
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