Ukraine has a large population of older people, with one in four residents over the age of 60. Most are women who lived through World War II as children and have seen their lives disrupted again by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the conflict that followed. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion last February, many older women were unable or unwilling to leave Ukraine.
Of the 4.8 million Ukrainians registered as refugees since war began, most are younger women and children – older women largely remain invisible to the outside world despite their experience, wisdom and resilience.
Valentina Romanova is a Holocaust survivor aged 93 who lives in an assisted-living home in Kyiv; her mother was killed at Babyn Yar when SS units murdered more than 33k Jews there during WWII: “What we had to go through after World War II is just flowers compared with this war,” she says about current events.
Klara Ushakova fled Donetsk for Mariupol when fighting broke out between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces but then had to flee again from Mariupol when it was invaded by Russian troops last March: “Living was easier in Mariupol,” she said wistfully.“Our people [in Donetsk], I can’t say I hated them…when I saw them go…yelling ‘Russia!’I couldn’t have good feelings towards them…I hate them now.”
Hanna Serhiienko lives two hours south of Kyiv where her house acts as a hub for local pensioners’ support groups.”We’re not afraid because we’ve already been through so much,”she explains.”But our pensions aren’t enough anymore.” She adds:”The state should do something about us.”
Although these three stories represent only small examples within millions affected across Eastern Europe’s ongoing conflicts,it highlights how elderly citizens often bear disproportionate burdens,and yet receive little attention or aid globally.