In their own words: Conflict and coronavirus in Ukraine
Ukraine has been affected by an ongoing conflict since 2014, resulting in a huge and protracted humanitarian crisis. With our partner, HelpAge International, we provide essential support to the most vulnerable conflicted-affected older people there, but now older people living in the region have had to face a new challenge – fighting coronavirus.
Two of the older people we support there told us why our help is more important than ever in the time of COVID-19.
Lydia is 80 and has lived in the village of Katerinivka in Ukraine since 1996. Her small, two-room house is practically on the contact line and she continually hears the firing of guns. Military operations mean access to the settlement is restricted so from time to time she has problems with getting her pension, or with buying food or medicine.
Lydia's husband died in 2012 and after that her health deteriorated. She has chronic pain in her legs and back and other problems that require care at home.
"The pension is small, and my daughter and grandchildren have left. There are only pensioners here in the village who have nowhere else to go. There are a lot of problems, but the worst thing is realising that you are all on your own, with your family and friends very far away," she said.
Since 2018 HelpAge International volunteers have been helping older people in Lydia's village. "Every meeting with a volunteer is a real event for me. There's communication, as well as emotional support and information. Volunteers are always ready to come to the rescue."
With support from the Ukrainian Humanitarian Fund, we provided Lydia with a hygiene kit, a walking frame, and information on how to prevent a stroke and diabetes. When COVID-19 hit in April, volunteers delivered personal protective equipment and information materials on preventing infection.
A volunteer from HelpAge helps Lydia with her domestic chores because her mobility issues make them a struggle. She was very happy to get the walking frame, as now she can move around on her own without any help. "After quarantine began in the country, the volunteers contacted me more often by phone and asked me about my health, as well as what difficulties or problems I have. Information materials on preventing coronavirus helped me to understand how to protect myself. If I forget something, I can always read about it again," Lydia said.
"People like me need all the support we can get. Being separated from relatives and facing loneliness is hard to bear. The war has lasted a long time, and now we have a new challenge, this terrible disease. When there is no gunfire, volunteers accompany us out in the yard to sit on the bench and see the sky and the sun. They talk to us, tell us the news and deliver humanitarian aid. They give us their warmth and care. Thank you very much for your support."
Maria was born in 1937 in the Mogilev region of Belarus, moving to Ukraine in 1956. She is now widowed and her two children moved away to different cities when they grew up and are unable to support her. Maria worked in retail and cooking for her whole life before retirement.
“I survived World War II and the difficult post-war period, and now another war has come. The miner's canteen, where I worked as a cook for many years, was destroyed. My legs hurt from all the years of hard work. In the last five years, it has become difficult to move around the house.”
Last year, a volunteer from HelpAge International offered his help. Leonidovna, as she affectionately calls him, gave Maria care and attention, taught her how to organise a safe space in her home and helped her overcome loneliness. He taught her about changes to pension and medical policies, helped her find a doctor and register for subsidies. HelpAge also provided Maria with a chair toilet, which means she does not have to go to the outhouse during the cold winter days.
Maria is always happy when the volunteer visits, offers to make him tea and gives him pies cooked from recipes she remembers by heart.
"Now I believe I can reach my 100th birthday," she says, adding that longevity depends on the character of the person. Maria’s mother taught her to live by the principle of "do not treat others poorly and live well, not with envy".
Three years ago, she sheltered a neighbour whose house collapsed after an attack. Earlier this year when her neighbour passed away, Maria rescued her kitten, Chernysh, from the street and now considers it part of her family. Maria is grateful to HelpAge for providing support, and she believes that soon there will be peace in the country.