UNHCR supports pensioners on both sides of the contact line in Ukraine

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The elderly makes up 30 % of the population affected by the conflict.

Author Alina Kovalenko | 1 Oct 2020

The humanitarian situation remains severe in the conflict affected Donetska and Luhanska oblasts in eastern Ukraine. As outlined in this year's Humanitarian Needs Overview, the elderly, often disabled and frail, make up a significant proportion of people in need of humanitarian assistance and require special attention and care. Over half a million people live in areas directly affected by the armed conflict. They continue to live under regular exchanges of gunfire across the contact line, while another two million are exposed to landmines and explosive remnants of war.

Some of elderly people who live along the contact line have experienced not just the challenges of the current conflict, but still remember living through one of the deadliest wars in the history of mankind. Valentyna, 82, a resident of Makiivka, Donetska oblast, was still a child, when World War II began. Yet, she remembers well the war.

"World War II was terrible and cruel, but the war in Donbass is even more terrible. My heart beats like crazy, my ears are ringing and my hands are shaking with fear," recalls Valentyna.

Her family lived in the village of Krasnyi Luch in the 1930s. Her mother worked in a collective farm and her father worked in a mine. When the war broke out, he went to the front and started working for the secret services.

"When my mother and I* were** left alone, it was very scary. The village was set on fire** several times** and we r**a**n to hide in the basement. I remember how German **soldiers **came to our house and we hid inside* *a clay stove, trying not to make a sound. The noise of the machine guns made my heart beat faster. I didn't think I would have to go through it again,*" says Valentyna.

In 1945, when the war ended, Valentyna's father was declared missing. The news dashed all hope for the long-awaited meeting with him but fortunately in 1946, Gregory was found. He returned home and even brought gifts for his beloved daughter. New clothes, school notebooks and other nice gifts increased the joy of seeing her father alive. The man said that all the time he was at the front, he never forgot his family. Dreams of hugging his wife and daughter again gave him the strength to survive and return.

In 2014, terrible events shook Valentyna's life again: her husband suddenly died and her family house was partially destroyed by shelling during the conflict. In addition, her diabetes got worse: her sugar levels rose so much that doctors barely managed to save her.

Her heath further worsened in 2017. Valentyna was outside when shelling struck her village again. She tried to run back to the house to hide in the basement, but stumbled and fell. The blow was so strong that for a while she could not even breathe.

She developed cancer as a consequence of the event. She underwent a long treatment and rehabilitation. Now Valentyna Grigoryevna is almost 83 years old. It is difficult for her to walk on her own and go to hospitals. She sets aside a part of her small pension to pay for medicines and treatment. She benefited from a project of the Donbas Development Center, jointly implemented with UNHCR, which aimed at helping the most vulnerable residents of Donbas. She received two sets of bed linen, a blanket, pillows, towels, an automatic tonometer and a walking stick.

*"Thank you very much for your help, I am very pleased and happy. Such beautiful bed linen, the blanket is very soft and pleasant. I can't even imagine how I used to live without a tonometer, it works very quickly. I use it almost every day. Earlier, I asked my neighbors to measure my blood pressure, and now I can do it by myself*," said Valentyna Hryhorivna.

Populations living along the contact line face the steepest challenges in accessing administrative services and benefits. For people residing in non-government controlled areas (NGCA), obtaining pensions or basic paperwork such as birth and death certificates can be a painful and legthy ordeal.

“When I see elderly people standing at the entry-exit checkpointss to receive their pensions, standing in the queue at the bank or pension fund, I feel pain because I know what difficulties they face. Since my parents also live in the non-government controlled areas, I know from personal experience how retirees live there”, commented Oleksandra Lytvynenko, UNHCR Assistant Protection Officer.

The elderly, children, people with disabilities and women residing in conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine are particularly vulnerable. In 2020, among people targeted for assistance, 56 % are women, 12 % people with disabilities and over 30 % are elderly persons. This is the highest proportion in the world of elderly beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance. Some 700,000 pensioners living in NGCA have lost their pensions since 2014, which represents more than half of all pensioners registered in Donetsk and Luhansk oblast. For over 40 % of them, their pension is the main source of income. Nearly 60 % of the people who regularly cross the contact line are elderly. Most of them cross from NGCA to government controlled areas in order to access their social benefits (including pensions), state administrative services, hospitals, markets or to simply withdraw cash.

In total, in 2020, UNHCR through its partner organizations provided individual protection assistance to 162 people living along the contact line in government-controlled areas and 232 people in NGCA. These are people with disabilities, chronic diseases, the elderly, large and low-income families, as well as people whose homes have been affected by the conflict.