The Russian invasion in Ukraine began at dawn on February 24, 2022. It has been catastrophic for the population, because of destructions, insecurity, and supply issues (food, medicine, etc.). One part of the country’s population is particularly hard hit by the consequences of this conflict: the elders.
Amnesty International organized a round table in December 2023 to discuss this category of the population, often forgotten and not protected by any UN convention.
Here we present an overview of the living conditions of older people in Ukraine, to celebrate the second anniversary of the partnership between Petits Frères des Pauvres France and the Starenki Foundation, who share a common mission: to combat the isolation and precariousness of the elderly.
The current situation
Today, a quarter of the Ukrainian population is aged 60 and over. The aging of the country’s population has accelerated sharply since the fall of the USSR (1994), because of an increase in life expectancy, but also of the immigration of young people to Western Europe.
Because of the war, 24% of the general population lives below the poverty line (5% before February 2022), and the elders are far more affected by precariousness. In fact, 80% of Ukrainian seniors were living below the poverty line in 2023.
Despite the lack of data on the isolation experienced by the country’s older people, we can nonetheless say that they are currently suffering from more loneliness, for a number of reasons. First, because many families have managed to leave the country, leaving their oldest members behind in Ukraine, and social workers fled as well. As a result, there are fewer people to look after the elders. The professionals who remained have a much heavier workload, and therefore less time to spend quality time with those in their care.
The consequences of the war
Although they represent only 24% of the Ukrainian population, older people account for a third of deaths directly caused by the war. This can be explained by the lack of mobility they face. They have more difficulty reaching a bunker (they move less quickly, can’t go as far, etc.). Moreover, 2,000 people aged 70 or over are held captive in Russian prisons, sometimes tortured, lacking the care they need to survive, and malnourished.
For those who have chosen or are forced to remain at home, other problems have arisen. Like the general population, they have less access to food. But the difference still lies in older people’s lack of mobility: it’s harder for them than it is for younger people to get the humanitarian aid they are entitled. They also have less access to health services and care. It applies both to obtain medicines and to benefit from surgeries necessary to their quality of life (cardiac, orthopedic, etc.), due to the flight of health staff to other European countries. Lastly, some of the equipment used by the elderly has become obsolete since the start of the conflict: due to recurrent power cuts, electric wheelchairs can’t be recharged, home respirators can’t work, elevators don’t work properly, and so on.
Finally, the question of rebuilding already starts to arise. How can the basic needs of the elders be met after a war? With poverty rising in the country, especially among older people, some will not be able to rebuild their homes.
The work of the Starenki Foundation
To lighten the daily burden of those left behind in Ukraine, national and international organizations and NGOs have sent teams to the country. Locally, organizations such as the Starenki Foundation focus on the well-being of Ukrainian seniors.
Starenki was set up in 2017 by five women who wanted to support isolated and precarious older people in their country. The ongoing conflict has accelerated its development.
In 2022, 21,000 food, hygiene and warm kits were distributed to the 10,000 people cared for by the organization, giving the most disadvantaged ones easier access to food and equipment to keep warm. A neighborhood program has also been set up, with volunteers regularly visiting their older neighbors to make sure they have everything they need. Collective homes are not forgotten: tea parties are organized by volunteers. They bring cakes and games to help the elders forget the difficult conditions in which they live because of the war.
Since March 2022, Petits Frères des Pauvres France and the Starenki Foundation have been partners. France provides financial and technical support for the Ukrainian action to combat the isolation and precariousness of older people, despite the circumstances.
Figures for 2023
In 2023, the Starenki Foundation worked for the elderly in an increasingly difficult environment. Thanks to its volunteers, the foundation was able to continue helping the most needy in over 150 villages. A total of 17,612 basic necessities kits were distributed throughout the country. These kits contain food, hygiene products and blankets. Despite the constant tension caused by the conflict, the Straenki Foundation is still present in 10 regions of Ukraine.