Ukraine: Older People Unable to Afford Food, Medicines, Other Essentials

Older Women, People Over 70, and Older People with Disabilities at Greater Risk

  • 8.9 million people in Ukraine – 24% of the population – are over 60.
  • More than half said the war had harmed their mental health.
  • 44% of people over 70 live alone.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2023 — Older people are still facing disproportionately greater risks one year in to the war in Ukraine, HelpAge said today. 

“One year into the horrific war in Ukraine, older people are struggling to get enough food, medicines, essential health care, and information,” said Dimitrije Todorovic, country director for HelpAge International in Ukraine. “Humanitarian actors must redouble their efforts to reach them, and zero in on those most likely to be left out due to poverty, isolation and disability.”   

Ukraine has been described as having the oldest humanitarian crisis in the world, with 8.9 million people, or 24% of the population, over the age of 60.

In a report released today, “I’ve Lost the Life I Knew”, new HelpAge research finds that the majority of older people—particularly those over 70, older women, and older people with disabilities—cannot afford to meet their basic needs, including food, medicine, hygiene items, utilities, and health care.

The situation has become more acute as the war continues. The share of older people who said they had to save on food increased from 23% in February 2022 to 35% in December 2022.

Limited access to humanitarian assistance

Regarding humanitarian assistance, 16% of older people surveyed said that they received it, primarily in the form of cash payments and food supplies. Only 55% of those who received it said it was easy to access humanitarian support. The UN’s recently-released 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine, which guides humanitarian actors’ efforts, reported that there are 3.9 million older people in need of many types of humanitarian assistance.

HelpAge’s research is based on what is the first nationally representative survey of older people in Ukraine since the full-scale war began. It also analyzes the experiences of older people compared to those of the total population. Interviews with older people, government officials, and civil society representatives in Ukraine corroborate the data findings. HelpAge International commissioned the Ukrainian research agency Info Sapiens to collect the data and conduct focus groups and interviews. 

More than half of the older people surveyed said that the war had harmed their mental health because of separation from friends and family, loneliness and isolation, disagreements with relatives or friends, and loss of loved ones. Of them, 81% said they often or very often feel distress and 76% said they often or very often feel anxious.

Older women face greater hardship than older men

Sixty-one percent of older women report that they do not have enough money to cover their basic needs, compared to 46% of men. Their pensions are 30% smaller on average than men’s. More older men (22%) reported receiving humanitarian assistance than older women (13%). This discrepancy is linked to women’s greater isolation, as they are more likely to live alone and experience additional barriers to accessing information. Sixty-four percent of Ukraine’s older population are women.

Lyubov, 76, described how lack of income has limited her access to the medicines she and her family need: “I live with my sister and my husband, both 73. He has had two strokes…. My sister has acute osteoarthritis. I have problems with my spine as well, so I’m in constant pain. The list of medications we need is long. We cannot afford most of it.”

People over 70 are poorer and more isolated

This research also found that people over 70 are more at risk than those in their sixties. They rely significantly more on modest government pensions and subsidies than people aged 60-69, who are more likely to work, even informally or part-time, and have salary income.

People aged 70+ experienced more barriers to food and medicine and were almost 2.5 times more likely to live alone than those in their sixties (44% vs. 19%). Their access to the internet and relevant skills are also significantly lower, which can impede their access to information about humanitarian assistance, evacuations, and the ongoing war.

Older people represent a significant portion of Ukrainians with disabilities: 24% of older people surveyed identified as having a disability, compared to 13% among the total population. More people over 70 have disabilities than those aged 60-69. Older people with low mobility reported particular barriers to accessing food, medicines, and the doctor due to the lack of support to leave their homes.

Older people have diverse experiences

The findings illustrate that the experiences of older people are diverse. Typical data collection, which either excludes older people or only considers people over 60 as a single cohort, risks missing key information that is essential to inform policy-making and programming. The same is true when there is a failure to examine the specific experiences of older women and older people with disabilities.

All older people, including older people with disabilities, have the right to life, food, water, adequate shelter, adequate health care, essential medicines, information, and humanitarian assistance, all on an equal basis with others at all times.

At the same time, older people’s resilience and participation in their communities cannot be overlooked.

Nataliia, 65, who had been displaced from eastern Ukraine, volunteers to help other displaced older people by offering them guidance on available assistance and services and providing emotional support: “Both my husband and I were inspired by volunteers who helped us when we first moved to a new place. Having gone through the same experience as them, being around the same age, we realized that we are in a unique position to extend the same kindness to others.”

HelpAge calls on all humanitarian actors in Ukraine to ensure the rights of older people and include them in decision-making, programming, and implementation.

About HelpAge USA
HelpAge USA advances the rights, well-being, and inclusion of older people around the world. As part of the HelpAge Global Network, HelpAge USA works to ensure that the contributions of all older people are recognized, and they have the right to a healthy, safe, and secure life. Visit us at helpageusa.org.

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