Older Ukrainian Refugees Face Specific Barriers Rebuilding Lives in Poland 

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2023 — Older Ukrainians face specific challenges as refugees in Poland, HelpAge USA said today. Governments and humanitarian organizations should incorporate older people’s experiences and perspectives when responding to crises, the organization said.

A new report from HelpAge USA today finds that older Ukrainians in Poland have shown significant resilience in fleeing the war, often on their own, and establishing new lives for themselves in Poland. At the same time, access to health care, financial security, and adjusting to a completely new life can be challenging for many.

“Tens of thousands of older Ukrainians fled horrific attacks and devastation to make their way to safety in Poland, often completely on their own,” said Cindy Cox-Roman, president and CEO of HelpAge USA. “Their particular experiences and challenges deserve to be heard and their views considered in all policies and programs.”

There are approximately 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees currently living in Poland. An unknown number of them are older; UNHCR reports that 13% of all refugee households across the region have at least one older person, overwhelmingly women.

The report is based on interviews with older Ukrainian refugees in four Polish cities. Most fled active armed conflict in eastern Ukraine during 2022, often with little or no idea where they would end up and how they would survive.

Antonina, 62, described what happened when Russian troops invaded her village:

“I lived alone in Chernihiv oblast. … [Russian] tanks streamed through our city. … It was impossible to leave. Everything [rockets, bombs] was flying everywhere. It was only after two months that I could leave. … Early on the trains were full of millions of people. I have a disability. … I use crutches to walk. … It wasn’t accessible.”

Antonina eventually bought a bus ticket and traveled on her own to Poland in April 2022.

All of the older Ukrainians in Poland with whom we spoke have adequate shelter, in some cases subsidized or paid for by the Polish government, and sufficient food. They continue to receive their Ukrainian pensions. However, not everyone who wanted to find work in Poland had been able to do so, including, they believed, due to their age.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has also documented disproportionate hardships for older Ukrainians.

Older Ukrainians in various Polish cities have critically benefitted from targeted programs supporting their adjustment and integration into local communities and overwhelmingly appreciate the safety of Poland while Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues. Despite this, older Ukrainians consistently described deep despair due to the war.

“Our whole lives we worked, we saved, we built our own house, all for nothing,” said Nadia, a 74-year-old widow. They also long to return to their homeland. “I really want all of this [war] to stop. I really want to go home,” said Antonina.

HelpAge urges the Polish government, domestic and international civil society organizations, and donors to ensure continued support to older Ukrainian refugees to live safe, healthy, dignified lives and ensure that financial pressures do not compel them to return to Ukraine before it is safe for them to do so. All actors involved in supporting older Ukrainians should actively seek and incorporate the perspectives and lived experiences to ensure effective policies and programming.

Jane Buchanan
Advocacy Advisor, HelpAge USA, and
author of the report

Cindy Cox-Roman President and CEO, HelpAge USA

About HelpAge USA

HelpAge USA is a nonprofit that 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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