Everything Raisa and her husband owned is now gone.
Ukraine is the world’s “oldest” humanitarian crisis, with the largest percentage of older people affected by a conflict in a single country anywhere in the world. Age and disability can make sheltering from the shelling harder, but leaving means having the strength to begin again and leave behind a lifetime of memories and belongings.
Raisa and her husband Alexander, both in their seventies, had to make that difficult decision when they were evacuated from their home in Severodonestk.
Severodonetsk is in Eastern Ukraine and was affected by the initial outbreak of conflict in 2014, but Raisa told us that things became far worse this year.
“After the war began, we had no electricity, water, or gas in Severodonetsk. We lived off humanitarian aid and had to cook outside on an open fire. We lived in constant fear of being shelled.”
Raisa and her husband met at a university and have been together for 52 years. Before the conflict worsened, they had hoped and expected to be able to have a comfortable retirement.
“We reached retirement and we thought it was time to enjoy our lives together … The children and even grandchildren are grown now. We had a washing machine, a nice heating system, and a TV. It seems that it’s not possible now, everything is gone.”
For older people living in conflict-affected regions, escaping the danger isn’t easy – and not everyone is willing and able to leave their homes when the opportunity to evacuate arises.
“We spent all the time in the corridor of our apartment because the basement is down a set of stairs and I have a back problem. Younger people could run down and hide whenever there was shelling, but I was not ready for those runs. We could have stayed in the basement all the time, but it was cold and damp down there. I couldn’t take it.”
Many who evacuated were only able to take the belongings they had to hand or could easily carry. Raisa and Alexander were only able to take their two pet cats, and the clothes they were wearing.
“I tell my granddaughter that we are like beggars now and she says it’s not true, but our neighbors gave us pillows and blankets…Nothing belongs to us here. I cry every day because I want to go back home.”
It’s also difficult for those living in conflict-affected regions who are uprooted and displaced from their homes to be able to claim their pension or access government support.
As well as supporting older people at home in the conflict-affected regions, HelpAge is supporting older people like Raisa and Alexander who have been displaced from their homes, ensuring they get what they need – whether that is hot meals or financial support. But it’s not yet clear what the future holds for older people like them.
“War is scary. War destroys families. But I think young people take it much easier. The younger ones still have time to make money and create something. But this is our last stop, I would say.”