Ignoring the Rapidly Aging Population Will Jeopardize Ukraine’s Recovery

New Brief Outlines How Ukraine Recovery Plan Must Consider the Needs of Older People

  • Ukraine has the largest percentage of older people affected by conflict in the world.
  • 90% of older people are unable to pay for basic
    medical needs.
  • The war-damaged infrastructure puts strain on a struggling health care system.
  • The government of Ukraine and its international partners must plan for changing demographics
    now to have successful recovery later.

LONDON, June 20, 2023  A failure to meet the needs of Ukraine’s older population could seriously undermine the country’s recovery efforts, according to HelpAge in a briefing published ahead of the Ukraine Recovery Conference to be held in London on June 21–22.

Ukraine’s rapidly aging population has major implications for the social and economic recovery of the country. At least 25% of Ukraine’s population were over the age of 60 before the Russian invasion—one of the highest percentages of older people of any country in the world—and this is on the rise.

“Anyone thinking about how to manage Ukraine’s recovery must address one very real fact: There is a very high proportion of older people in the country, who have specific needs that must be addressed,” said Dimitrije Todorovic, HelpAge’s Ukraine Country Director.

“The challenge created by an aging population can be solved not by locking people away in institutions, but by developing a coherent strategy that upholds the rights and needs of older people. This is something that requires immediate action, as well as sustainable, long-term reforms.”

A fundamental shift in the country’s demographics

Older people made up a quarter of Ukraine’s population before the outbreak of the war, and this has increased since the start of the conflict. Many younger people have left the country, while older citizens have chosen to stay at home. This trend is likely to increase if Ukraine is successful in acceding to the European Union (EU), granting people the right to free movement across Europe.

Any social and economic recovery plan for the country will have to factor in the needs of an older population caused by this change in demographics. It is essential that the recovery process engages all population groups and is informed by disaggregated data. The government will not only need to rebuild its health and long-term care services, but make them fit for an aging population. They will also need to deliver accessible housing and infrastructure and develop a sustainable pension system.

Significantly, 16% of public health facilities were damaged or destroyed after just one year of war, while the number of people with disabilities went up by an estimated 130,000—and countless numbers of people reported struggling with mental health issues.

“The war is exacerbating the need for long-term care and support in the community, making it very important to develop systems that will be more responsive to the rising needs of an older population. Ukraine’s demographics are changing and it is time for support efforts to acknowledge it,” stated Todorovic.

Economic decline intensifies income insecurity

The war has pushed 7.1 million people into poverty. About 80% of single older Ukrainians live below the poverty line and 90% are unable to pay even for basic medical needs. HelpAge’s own research shows that in 2021, the pension was the sole income for 89% of older people.

“These medicines cost more than half of my pension. I don’t have enough money for both food and medicines,” says 65-year-old Valentina, who needs treatment for her deteriorating eyesight.

There is an urgent need to improve the viability of the state pension system to create a sustainable future for the country and dignity for its older people.

Institutional long-term care curtails older people’s independence

Prior to the war, Ukraine was on a clear path to deinstitutionalization of care for children, people with disabilities, and older people. However, within the first four months of the war, more than 4,000 older people—including those who had been living independently prior to the war—are reported to have been placed in state institutions.

This adds to the estimated 41,000 older people and people with disabilities living in institutions before the conflict. While these institutions may be a safe shelter during the war, prolonged stay increases isolation and puts older people in danger of institutional abuse and neglect.

“I really didn’t want to come here at first. It is a nursing home and I am not that old. I was staying at a school with toilets outside and the director encouraged me to come here. At least the conditions are good. I have heard bad things about other institutions. I know that many older people are not so lucky. […] I would like to live in my own home but, while the war is ongoing, I will stay here,” Tamara, 69 years old.

Reversing the process of over-reliance on institutions will keep Ukraine committed to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that it ratified in 2010. More importantly, it will ensure that older people can enjoy a life of independence, autonomy, and choice.

“The war has hit older people the hardest, as they are the ones who stayed behind—isolated and deprived of support systems. No efforts to support Ukraine’s recovery can ignore this, and any path to recovery and EU integration for Ukraine must prioritize policies ensuring equality, inclusivity, and age-friendly communities,” said Todorovic.

Alex Garvey
Communications Manager

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