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Ukraine Conflict: Lyudmila's story

Older people in Ukraine must face the heart-breaking decision of whether to stay home and face the dangers of the conflict, or uproot their lives to become a refugee. It often means being separated from loved ones either way. We met with Lyudmila, an 87-year-old refugee who is staying at the Dacia Refugee Centre in Moldova and had to leave behind her husband and grandchildren.

“I was born in 1935 in Poltava, and when I was seven, we moved to Russia. For three years, we had nothing to eat, but my mother worked at an orphanage, and she gave us water mixed with flour, and that is how we survived. It was very, very hard.

My father was the director of a university, so we later received a nice apartment in Kyiv, but before that, we moved around a lot. I studied economics and became a university professor which I loved, but it was a very hard life, especially in my father’s last years, when there was only me to take care of him.

The last few years have not been easy but now I just feel helpless. My second husband, Sasha, and I had COVID last year, and we are still recovering. He is 85, and we have been together for 53 years. But now he is in Kharkiv with his daughter [from his first marriage], and I am here with my son, Zhenya, who is 61.

I don’t know when I will see Sasha again, and I miss him so much. We talk when we can but our telephones are so old that they rarely work, and I have to borrow Zhenya’s. I understand why people stayed behind in Ukraine. It is too hard to be separated. I think about Sasha every day.

My grandson Maxim is in Kyiv, and his wife and son, Arthur, are with him. Maxim is 30, so he was not allowed to leave. Maxim will have to fight, and I am so worried about him. I am so worried about the war. Now we are here, in this centre in Ghidigici. I have bad arthritis in my knees and there is no lift, so I must stay on the second floor of the centre. Even if I could walk, there is nowhere for me to go.

My eyesight is very bad. I am blind in one eye and my vision in the other eye is very weak. Sometimes I stay in my room and use my tablet, but there is not much to do. I walk to the windows on the second floor and watch the street. When the weather is nice, the staff open the windows for me so I can feel the air. Nothing ever changes.

I understand why people stayed behind in Ukraine. It is too hard to be separated. If Zhenya stays, I will stay. If he goes, I will go. But it never changes. I am so alone.”

Lyudmilla, 87

Age International and its partner HelpAge International are supporting older people on both sides of the border, helping those who have remained in Ukraine as well as those seeking refugee in neighbouring countries. In Moldova, we are providing food, hygiene kits and medical assistance to older refugees who have made the difficult journey across the border like Lyudmila.

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Last updated: Apr 26 2022

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