Older people’s experience of war in Ukraine – Amnesty International report in English, Ukrainian and Russian
Published by Amnesty International, December 2022
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, has been characterized by a flagrant disregard for civilian life and frequent war crimes. Russia has indiscriminately attacked Ukrainian cities, including with banned weapons, committed extrajudicial executions in areas under its control, and targeted clearly-marked civilian infrastructure in places like Mariupol. More than 13,000 civilians in Ukraine have been killed or injured – a number the United Nations says is likely an undercount – and millions have been forced from their homes.
Ukraine, where people over 60 years old make up nearly one-fourth of the population, is one of the “oldest” countries in the world. According to HelpAge International, the proportion of older people affected by the war in Ukraine is higher than that of any other ongoing conflict. This report shows how intersecting challenges, from disability to poverty to age discrimination, are compounded in emergency situations, putting older people at heightened risk.
Often reluctant or unable to flee their homes, older people appear to make up a disproportionate number of civilians remaining in areas of active hostilities, and as a result they face a greater likelihood of being killed or injured. Amnesty International documented several cases in which older people who stayed behind were hit by shelling or sheltered in harrowing conditions.
Even when they succeed in escaping such dangers, older people face distinct challenges in displacement. In particular, this report explores how the war has negatively impacted the rights of older people in Ukraine to adequate housing and to full inclusion and participation in their communities. Once displaced by the conflict, older people are often locked out of the rental market by pensions that are well below real subsistence levels, particularly since rental prices have increased at an alarming rate. Support for older people who have disabilities is rarely provided in temporary shelters. As a result, at least 4,000 older people have been given no option but to live in state institutions for older people and people with disabilities. While the goal of this policy is undoubtedly benevolent, it is in conflict with the rights of older people with disabilities, segregating them in isolated settings where they can be subject to abuse.
Those older people who remain in their homes in conflict-affected areas often do so because they have no alternative housing options or face greater difficulty evacuating. Many live in partially or fully destroyed housing that is dangerous to inhabit, lacking functional roofs, windows, electricity or heating, and without access to healthcare facilities, grocery stores or pharmacies. Information about evacuation plans, and evacuation routes themselves, are not always accessible to older people or adapted to their needs. In addition to the risk of being killed or injured, older people experienced health emergencies that went untreated as a result of staying in conflict-affected areas.
“Svitlana,” 64, who spent the first four months of the war in a Russian-occupied village near Kharkiv, said that her 61-year-old brother collapsed from a stroke in late April 2022. He was hospitalized, but the hospital did not have electricity or running water. He was discharged the next day: “They couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t do an electrocardiogram, they couldn’t do an encephalogram, they had no medications.” Less than a week later, Svitlana’s brother died from a second stroke, according to a death certificate seen by Amnesty International.
In total, Amnesty International interviewed 226 people for this report. Research was carried out between March and October 2022 and included a four-week trip to Ukraine in June and July 2022 as well as remote interviews. Amnesty International interviewed 87 older people living in shelters or in their homes, many of whom had health conditions or disabilities or were caring for those who did. Amnesty International also conducted seven in-person visits to state institutions, where many older people have been housed since the war began; delegates interviewed 106 people there, including staff and 83 residents, more than half of whom were over 60 years old. Finally, Amnesty International interviewed family members who had first-hand information about the situations of older people during the war, as well as advocates, volunteers, and those running shelters for the displaced.
Under international law, there is no specific definition of older age. While chronological age – such as 60 – is often used as a benchmark, this does not always reflect whether a person is exposed to risks commonly associated with older age. Amnesty International prefers a context-specific approach to older age, which takes into account the ways in which people are identified and self-identify in a given context, consistent with the approach taken by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In this report, most interviewees were over 60 years old, but several cases of people in their 50s who spoke of themselves as older people are also included.
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