Older refugees travelling from Ukraine to Germany.
Over five million Ukrainians have left their home country because of Russia’s military attack, which started on the 24th of February 2022. Many of these people have found asylum in neighbouring countries. More than the half of all Ukrainians refugees went to Poland, while Germany has welcomed over 300,000. According to a survey by the German Ministry of the Interior, about 17 per cent of Ukrainian refugees so far registered by the German Federal Police came alone, and the majority of them are older persons. The same survey shows that 84 per cent of these refugees are women.
In order to help Ukrainian refugees and other citizens wanting to leave Ukraine, the German authorities offer free train transport to any destination in Germany, only requiring proof of identity. At the same time, EU Member States have suspended visa and immigration controls for people fleeing from the war. In addition, they have allowed free movement within the Schengen Area, including Germany. Enabling these freedoms of movement is very important, although it hampers assessing the real number of the Ukrainian refugees coming to different EU countries.
In Germany, Ukrainian refugees can settle in the region and city of their choice. Many of them move to the areas where they have family and friends or to places – Berlin, Hamburg or Munich – where they hope to find a job quickly. In a video statement, the German Minister of Interior called on Ukrainian refugees not to go to big cities because the reception capacities of those cities are exhausted. She recommends they go to small cities or countryside where they can find accommodation more easily. According to a survey by the Ministry of the Interior, 24 per cent of refugees are living with friends and 19 per cent are living with relatives. Another 22 per cent are living in other private homes.
Over 25 per cent of Ukraine’s population is aged 60 or more. Many of these senior citizens have experienced and survived World War 2. In addition, they have witnessed the forcible annexation of the Crimea by Russia 2014. Among these older persons, some are Holocaust survivors. At the time of the Russian invasion, the Jewish Claims Conference was caring for over 10,000 Holocaust survivors in the Ukraine. Nearly 600 of these survivors have very high care needs. Because their care is not guaranteed due to the war, about 400 of them have already been evacuated to Germany with the support of the German government. In their effort to fight Covid-19, the German authorities have put a mechanism in place to vaccinate people coming from Ukraine as the rate of vaccination in Ukraine is the lowest in Europe.
Many institutions have developed programmes and initiatives to support Ukrainian refugees. For instance, the German Foundation for Disaster Follow-up Care has produced an information sheet for people assisting refugees. This document provides guidance when dealing with people who have been traumatized by war, although it does not provide specific information about the needs of older refugees. The Association of German Psychologists offers psychological support for refugees and those who are helping them. A privately organised initiative, #health4ukraine, offers special transportation to safe areas for people with restricted mobility and for those in need of care, as well as their relatives, and facilitates the allocation of private and institutionalised accommodation for them. There are a number of other initiatives, such as the programme “Menschen stärken Menschen” (people empower people) run by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens Women and Youth and an information hotline www.germany4ukraine.de run by the German Ministry of Interior.