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Older Ukrainians Threatened by War with Russia

Old people in eastern Ukraine are suffering from the conflict between government forces and Russian-supported rebels. The United Nations estimates 60 percent of people displaced by the fighting within the country are elderly. It says they often suffer from poor mental and physical health. And it says many of them are living without gas, water and electricity.

VOA spoke with a 77-year-old Ukrainian woman named Lydia Stepanovna. For 16 years she lived quietly near the city of Debaltseve. But in January, the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels fought a fierce battle in the town. Rockets were fired, and the house next to hers was severely damaged.

Ms. Stepanovna says she was in bed, listening to artillery shells hitting areas far away when suddenly the shells began landing close to her house. She was very scared. She had never heard such a loud sound. She prayed to God to help her. If she could not be saved, she wanted to die quickly. She didn’t want to be disabled.

Ms. Stepanovna says there was bombing every day during the fighting.

She was afraid when she went to the bathroom and when she went out for water. Sometimes when she went out to gather water, bombs would start to fall and she would drop the water and run for safety.

Many elderly people living in areas controlled by rebels have not received their pensions in months. Rebels have distributed aid and recently paid each older person forty dollars.

On the wall of Lydia’s kitchen there is an old picture of a full breakfast meal. But now she has only dried bread, and the onions, apples and walnuts she gathers from her garden.

Lydia’s friend Luda is 80 years old and lives across the street. She lived in her basement for a month during the shelling.

She says all of the windows in her house are broken and the roof has many holes. When it rains, the water falls into her home. Her health is suffering because she does not have shelter.

Sadly, this is not Lydia and Luda’s first war. They were children during World War II. They remember when the German army invaded Ukraine in 1941. Lydia’s mother was working in a nearby factory when the Germans attacked.

She says her family was living near a chemical factory that was often attacked. She remembers the bombers in the sky.

Today, Lydia’s son is fighting with the rebels. She says she just wants the war to stop.

She says the war is happening for no reason. No one can understand why this war started. Even when the German soldiers were here we didn’t see such things like we see them today. She says her town is in very bad condition now because of the conflict.

Older Ukrainians are once again experiencing the collapse of part of their country.

I’m Marsha James.

Patrick Wells reported this story from Debaltseve, Ukraine. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.


Words in This Story

elderly – adj. old or rather old; past middle age

pension – n. an amount of money that a company or the government pays to a person who no longer works or is sick or old

basement – n. the part of a house or building that is entirely or partly below the ground

Are older people in your country affected by fighting between the government and rebels? Are they being helped? If so, how? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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