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January 26, 2022
Older People

Concern for Older People as Russia-Ukraine Tension Mounts


Concern for Older People as Russia-Ukraine Tension Mounts

By Paul Anticoni

The world looks on with mounting concern as political and military tensions between Russia and the West, that threaten Ukraine, grow.

After 8 years of frozen conflict between the two countries, the horror of war lingers on. Over 14,000 people killed, upwards of 1 million people displaced in Ukraine, access to separatist controlled areas fraught with challenge and now a risk of significant escalation.

There is no doubt that whatever scenarios play out in the coming weeks, the impact will be especially high for our client group across Ukraine – older Jewish people, who live with the scars of hostilities in 2014. Their normal day to day life is already precarious, relying on our support to supplement their meagre monthly pension. For them, the risk of further military incursion into Ukraine’s sovereign borders is just one of their many concerns: the Omicron variant has reached Ukraine and starting to take effect on the population, only 32.7% of whom are vaccinated, energy and food prices are rising, and they face a freezing cold winter. All of these are making for an already very sombre start to 2022.

Many of those we support are home bound, meaning they rely on our deliveries for basic necessities, and on phone calls and visits from our social and homecare workers for social interaction. Any disruption to our services would undoubtedly bring despair to their daily lives.

After the outbreak of conflict in 2014, many older people did not or could not flee, so a disproportionate number of the population left in the separatist controlled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east are older.  World Jewish Relief is continuing to provide some support to those Jewish clients in Donetsk.

We are in daily contact with our partners in eastern and southern Ukraine, and have reached out to offer support in the event of a further deterioration of the situation. They have thanked us, but soberingly reminded us that they are used to living under the threat of war. There is no doubt that the psychological trauma of ongoing conflict and even simply the threat of any escalation, preys particularly acutely on a home bound elderly client group. During their second winter in the shadow of the pandemic, energy insecurity is a real threat, and making many Ukrainians feel as uneasy as the military threat. One partner told us how they went to buy coal for older clients, but they couldn’t find any. They scrambled to secure another heating source before prices skyrocketed due to demand. Energy prices have doubled this year, impacting the cost of everything else, from dry goods to medical costs.

Last year World Jewish Relief provided support to 8,125 elderly Jewish clients in Ukraine. But we are also assisting a Jewish client group, and some of their non-Jewish neighbours, in separatist controlled Donetsk, in Belarus and in Russia. Our ability to deliver such services is predicated on the capability of our local partners, and in ensuring we don’t seek to take sides in the conflict, concerned only for the welfare of our clients.

Perhaps in the coming days as we hear the constant news reports on political and military activity in the region, we will take a moment to remind ourselves of the frightening civilian consequences that will inevitably result.