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November 24, 2021
Corona Virus

Out of the Cold: Older Jews and Insulation this Winter


Elderly man sitting in his dilapidated kitchen

Out of the Cold: Older Jews and Insulation this Winter

By Beth Saffer, Head of Older People Programmes

As we gear up towards winter in the UK, we are reminded of the older people in Eastern Europe who face the winter cold with dread. Harsh winters, Covid-19 and an energy crisis are leading to increased anxiety among our client group.

Over the past 10 years we have invested the UK Jewish community’s generous donations into repairing the most dilapidated and run-down homes in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. The primary focus has always been to make homes warmer, drier and safer for inhabitants. In the face of poor Governmental infrastructures to invest in developing new and better-quality housing, this work has ensured thousands of people can live out their remaining years with dignity.

This winter, as the world’s attention has been on COP26 and global commitments to combat the climate crisis through improved environmental policies and practices, we are proud of the environmental benefits of our home repairs programme.

Insufficient, outdated and often centralised heating systems in Eastern Europe, built during Soviet times, lead to overcompensation in CO2 emissions. This means more fuel is needed to achieve an adequate level of heat. With around 70% of Ukraine’s emissions coming from its energy sector, and the fact that this energy is by and large produced using fossil fuels (UNDP), the underdeveloped housing sector is having a detrimental environmental impact.

According to the International Finance Corporation with the World Bank Group, in Ukraine, the heating of multi-storey residential buildings is estimated to account for around 50 percent of all energy losses, costing the country around $3 billion per year. Of the 17.6 billion cubic meters of gas consumed in Ukraine in 2016, more than half could have been saved through energy-efficiency improvements and modernisations in the housing sector, leading to a cleaner environment and reduced emissions.

When we look at the homes where Jewish older people live, these statistics come to life. Flats and homes are poorly insulated, with ill-fitting and broken windows and doors, leading to extensive heat loss. Elderly Jews whom we support frequently report average temperatures indoors of 15-17 degrees celsius, even when the heating is on. As one of our partners wrote:

In a house where the walls let the cold through, even the slightest cold outside causes the temperature in the apartment to drop. In winter, Alla walked around the apartment dressed in many clothes all the time, and on the coldest days, she even put on mittens and slept fully dressed. The temperature in the apartment in winter dropped to 14 degrees. 

(Sumy, Ukraine, 2021)

Another partner wrote:

The windows were dilapidated, old, in disrepair, with huge cracks through which dust and gasoline smells flew from the street, it was very noisy. In the cold season, it blew out of the windows, and during the rains, water flowed through the cracks onto the windowsill. Due to constant drafts, cold and dampness in the apartment, Julia was often sick, had to turn on an electric heater to heat the room, which led to an increase in electricity bills. Within the framework of Home Repairs project, the balcony block was replaced in the room, the window in the kitchen was changed, which closes tightly now, retains heat and does not allow extraneous sounds and dust to enter the room.

(Kharkiv, Ukraine, 2021)

Low pensions (averaging £110 a month in Ukraine) and high utility bills mean items such as electric heaters are considered a luxury. And paying for their own repairs, such as insulation or window replacement, is entirely unaffordable for our client group.

Making these homes more energy efficient through better insulation to combat heat loss not only helps our clients live in warmer homes and pay less for their energy bills, but also contributes towards lowering emissions more generally.

Since 2018 working in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, we have installed over 800 new windows, 160 new doors, and repaired 190 balcony units. 63 homes have been insulated. This year we plan to repair more than 200 additional homes.

However, global costs for building materials have skyrocketed. We will not be able to complete these repairs without your help. With older people shielding against Covid-19 for a second winter, making sure they are warm and safe is our utmost priority. And with the climate crisis more tangible than ever, we must play our part to ensure repairs have an additional, positive impact in mitigating further harm to our planet.

Pictured – Mark Kitainik, whose flat was renovated by World Jewish Relief. Before, the constant cold, dampness and mould on the window frames aggravated Mark’s depressive mood associated with the loss of his wife. He had to constantly plug the cracks in the windows with different insulation materials to stop cold, rain, and snow coming into the apartment. He was often ill and anxious.