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December 8, 2023
Older People

Our Statement on Winterisation and Older Persons in Ukraine


Bomb destroyed building in Ukraine, with snow on the ground

As Ukraine enters its second winter since Russia’s full-scale invasion, older people – whether at home or displaced, are bracing themselves for low temperatures, and the threat of a repeat of winter 2022 during which frequent attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure plunged many parts of Ukraine into long periods of blackouts and energy shortages.

Older people (aged 60 and over) make up 24% of Ukraine’s population; they are an integral part of Ukraine’s economic and social fabric. The resilience they have shown over the past 600+ days is astounding. Many older people have actively volunteered for their local communities and the war effort.2 With strong connections to their homes, gardens and local communities and fear of the unknown; estimates are as high as 84% of older people have stayed in their own home rather than evacuating or relocating to safer parts of the country or abroad. Yet many have lost informal support networks with relatives moving away or fighting in the army. This leaves them increasingly vulnerable to isolation and loneliness, which is also damaging to physical and mental health.  

Older people remain economically vulnerable; with a third of pensioners receiving under £80 per month, yet the cost of living exceeding £350 per month, they are forced to choose between buying food, medicine or paying utility bills. Funding repairs resulting from shelling or paying for rental accommodation is simply unaffordable for most.  

Barriers to healthcare 

Accessing timely and affordable healthcare has always been challenging in Ukraine, particularly for older people. Now, since the full-scale invasion, the healthcare system remains functional but is highly overstretched. Increased prices of medicines and poverty have become major barriers to healthcare access in the country. Decreased budget spending on healthcare has also caused gaps in the funding and provision of health services.  

Older people, especially those remaining in non-government-controlled areas (NGCAs) or frontline areas, struggle to access primary and specialised healthcare. They cannot afford medications and are less likely to receive financial assistance, whether from the government or NGOs.7

Damaged homes and insufficient shelters  

An estimated 1.4 million homes in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed since the escalation of the war in February 2022. Their residents have either taken shelter elsewhere or are trying to survive the best they can in poorly insulated homes if they practically or financially cannot leave. 

Displacement sites or collective centres are often ill-prepared for the winter, built without accessibility in mind, and poorly maintained which affects heating systems, water, electricity and gas supplies.

Those who are either permanent or temporary residents in Ukraine’s State institutions (nursing homes) face over-crowding and facilities which are not suitable to their needs, especially those living with disabilities/chronic health conditions.

Threat of energy disruption   

Disruption to energy infrastructure is of particular concern for older people especially in the loss or reduction in central heating. Those who are less mobile to start with will struggle to stay warm. Many health conditions are exacerbated by cold, such as arthritis, and the seasonal illnesses that affect everyone during winter, such as flu, colds, and pneumonia are more dangerous for older people. There is an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Icy and slippery conditions outside create additional hazards, especially during times of electricity blackouts, leading some to avoid going outside for needed exercise, which further reduces physical strength and increases frailty.  

We urge humanitarians and other actors to take older people’s rights and needs into account as they develop and implement their plans for the approaching winter. 

  • Humanitarian agencies, Civil society and Government agencies who provide direct social assistance should increase the frequency of home visits and outreach services to older people during winter months, as well as offering mental health and psychosocial counselling and support services, in person and remotely 
  • Priority should be given to older people when distributing items such as thermal blankets, thermal underwear, outerwear, heating appliances and solid fuel. 
  • Older people should be prioritised for urgent home repairs in cases of shelling damage, and attention should be paid to accessibility and dignity when renovating residential buildings where older people reside.

This winter, World Jewish Relief, working through its network of local partners in Ukraine, will reach almost 3,000 older adults with winter assistance including warm clothing, generator fuel, winter packages, utility bill subsidies and supplying coal and firewood. We are also funding emergency home repairs including temporary windows in 8 locations