Ukraine’s Forgotten Citizens

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25 April 2022

As the war in Ukraine continues, millions of refugees have fled across the borders and millions more have been displaced. Many have forgotten another at-risk group in Ukraine since the war started. This group is the elderly, or people who are over age 65. This group of people is one of the most vulnerable in Ukraine.

People like 71-year-old Vladimir Lignov. He remembers that on March 21, 2022, he went outside. A shell hit his home in Avdiivka, an industrial center in eastern Ukraine, and then he lost his arm.

Lignov was first treated in a hospital in Myrnorad where the fighting is continuing. The doctors there said he should come back after a week for more treatment. At the hospital in Dnipro where Lignov is currently staying, they said that he should come back in three days.

He said that he can still feel his arm. Although he is safe now at a refugee center, he is confused.

"I don't understand what's going on. Maybe it's better if I just go to the graveyard. I don't want to go on living," Lignov said.

Federico Dessi is the Ukraine director of the organization Handicap International. This group provides equipment to the elderly and disabled and will provide financial support to the refugee center in Dnipro, Ukraine.

Dessi said that elderly people are "forgotten and very vulnerable" during times of war. Not including physical health, they need other types of care that are not easy to access.

"(They are) cut off from their families... (and) sometimes unable to use telephones or communicate," Dessi said.

Olga Volkova is the volunteer director for the Dnipro refugee center. It houses up to 84 residents. Most of them are elderly.

"The hardest are the people who spent long stretches in cellars. A lot of people were left on their own. We helped them before the war, but then they were left to fend for themselves," Volkova said.

Aleksandra Vasiltchenko is an 80-year-old ethnic Russian from Ukraine. She spent several weeks alone in her three-room apartment in the eastern city of Kramatorsk before she escaped. She is one of the luckier ones. Her grandson came to pick her up from the Dnipro home.

"I was hiding all the time in the bathroom. I was constantly crying. I was imprisoned in my own flat," Vasiltchenko said.

Zoya Taran also considers herself lucky despite her health problems. Her son left a career in music two decades ago to take care of her.

"I am that elderly babushka. My son is my eyes, my hands and my legs. I have nothing on my own," she said as she smiled.

She did not leave in the beginning of the war, but as the Russian attack moved closer to Sloviansk, Taran decide to leave.

"Why do we need this war? What do they want from us?" she said as she cried.

Based on Ukrainian governmental numbers, Handicap International states that approximately 13,000 elderly or people with disabilities have come to the Dnipro area since the start of the Russian invasion. Other centers have also offered shelter to the elderly from the east.

Yulia Panfiorova is 83 years old and is from Lysychansk in the Luhansk region. Russian forces have attacked that area. She is one of the 30 new arrivals to a center where there are almost 100 people already.

Panfiorova, who cannot hear very well, said that she was very frightened by the sounds of shelling. Three shells were so close to her home that her windows broke.

She has lived through three wars: World War II, this current Russian invasion and the 2014 fight between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Kremlin rebels.

"Lysychansk was freed from the Nazis in 1943. I remember how we returned home. Of course, I have some memories about it. They were Nazis. Then our country was invaded, and now our country has been invaded by a foreign state. Then the freedom of our state was at threat. Now it is the same. We should fight... But the war is so scary," Panfiorova said.

Agence France-Presse reported this story. Faith Pirlo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

vulnerableadj. weak, helpless exposed

confused adj. unable to understand or think clearly

graveyardn. a place where dead people are buried.

cellarsn. the part of a building that is entirely or partly below the ground

flat n. an apartment

fend v. to protect of defend

imprisonedv. to be held in a jail or prison

babushkan. a grandmother

What do you think should be done to help Ukraine's most vulnerable citizens like the elderly? Write to us in the Comments Section.