Emergency webinar: Older people in Ukraine. – Galina Poliakova, Age Concern Ukraine.
This webinar took place on 17 March 2022.
A recording is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc3GOPnwIUE
This week we will publish a series of blogs with selected, edited content from each of the speakers.
Galina Poliakova, Age Concern Ukraine.
Age Concern Ukraine is now running a network of trained volunteers who contact vulnerable older people by phone and, where possible, provide basic food aid. In those parts of the country less affected by the conflict, they support internally-displaced people.
Galina reflects that when the initial phase of the war with Russia began in 2014, around 10,000 older people in the conflict-affected areas were living in long-term care facilities (LTCFs). When they were ordered to evacuate, only around 2,800 did so. This was because their disabilities and frailty made evacuation difficult or because they were too frightened to leave.
Following the Russian invasion in February 2022, children in orphanages were quickly evacuated, but “as for older persons, they stay.” Many LTCFs are in areas currently occupied or under heavy bombardment. A recent attempt to evacuate 100 older women failed, as the buses were damaged by Russian artillery fire. LTCFs in the conflict zones are unable to obtain food or medicine. “Many are starving. We can transfer money, but they can’t buy anything.”
Galina refers to a facility where 120 older people were sheltering in the basement, when the building was hit by a bomb “and so, step by step, this basement was converted into a swimming pool.” It was possible to repair the water pipes, although the older people remain there in the dark and cold. She adds “I had a call from another facility this morning. It was heavily bombed. Four patients died…. It was necessary to bury them. It’s minus ten outside, the ground is frozen. So they had to ask people from outside the facility to dig the graves for them.”
Galina was recently phoned by the government director of LTCFs who discussed a facility for older men with mental health conditions. He told her: “They want cigarettes. They’ve been smoking for 60, 70 years. We have no medicines, so they behave very strangely. They have no food, so what can they do?” But no donors will allow her to buy cigarettes.
Only a small share of older people who live in their own homes have left. “At home, there are pets and older people… We were not prepared for the war… The basements in our buildings are not effective as bomb shelters. Heavy bombing makes life impossible, especially when electricity, water and gas supplies are cut… Our very good humanitarian recommendation prove to be helpless, because people have absolutely no access to food or doctors.”