Read caption 87-year old Kateryna Tika lives alone in a very old small house at the outskirts of Lysychansk town. When the cold season comes, the temperature inside house falls to 2 degrees above zero. She heats her house with coal and firewood, but warmth flies away through multiple cracks in windows, walls and roof. Photo: Amid Askerov/NRC

Older persons in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine: immeasurable asset to societies

NRC and HAI|Published 01. Oct 2018
International Day of Older Persons: a critical need to reinstate full and non-discriminatory access to human rights by older persons in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons – the date allows us to reflect upon the situation of older persons, as well as for acknowledging the vital role they play in the society.

Driven by the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, this year’s theme for Older Persons’ Day – “Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions” – aims to look at the progress and challenges in ensuring full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons.

On the occasion of this important date, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Help Age International (HAI) would like to acknowledge the contributions that older persons make to their families, communities and societies worldwide.

We would also like to raise some of the major concerns faced by older persons in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine and internally displaced people, calling upon the concerned authorities to ensure full and equal access by older persons to their rights and freedoms. This should be done by ensuring:

  • non-discriminatory access to pensions by conflict-affected older persons
  • accessible and responsive procedures for crossing the contact line
  • access to public services such as healthcare, transport and social services

As of 2018, Ukraine ranks within the top 30 countries with the biggest shares of population aged above 60. More than 9.5 million people are above 60 years old, constituting one-fifth of the country’s population.

Under Ukrainian law, the State authorities have social protection commitments. Despite this, older persons across the country face a number of challenges to access their entitlements.

The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, that has entered its fifth year, greatly exacerbates the lives of the affected population. Older persons are disproportionately impacted by the crisis in eastern Ukraine: 30 percent of the 4.4 million conflict-affected people are over 60 years old.

As a result of hostilities, eastern Ukraine is now divided into government-controlled areas (GCA) and non-government controlled areas (NGCA) by a 500-km long contact line with a system of entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs) installed on both sides by the parties to the conflict.

Residents of areas along the contact line and of the NGCA, as well as internally displaced people, are amongst the most vulnerable categories of older persons in Ukraine. Conflict-affected older persons often face discrimination and challenges in accessing food, housing and medical care.

NRC and HAI have the privilege to work directly with the conflict-affected population, including older persons. Both organisations, drawing on the first-hand observations by their field teams, are concerned by the situation regarding upholding the rights of older persons and the challenges older persons face in meeting their needs in eastern Ukraine. Despite extensive efforts by various stakeholders, there is still a ways to go in achieving full and equal access to rights.

  • Older persons residing in the areas on either side of the contact line are caught in a perilous situation of ongoing fighting.. Access to government services, including healthcare and public transportation, is either limited or non-existent, and the security situation severely restricts humanitarian access and assistance to these areas. Livelihood opportunities are few, and basic goods such as food, hygiene items, assistive devices and medication are often either unavailable or inaccessible due to increased cost.
  • After more than four years of hostilities, the conflict-affected population, especially in the areas along the contact line, is in dire need of mental health services and psychosocial support. It is vitally important for the concerned authorities, as well as for the humanitarian community, to map all existing resources in this regard and to make sure that such services are available and accessible to those in need.
  • Residents of NGCA and people displaced from NGCA are not able to claim their pensions unless they are registered as internally displaced people in GCA. They have to undergo a complex and discriminatory verification process, which includes home visits, physical identification in banks and other types of checks provided in various by-laws. This approach raises legal concerns and generates serious humanitarian consequences, since most pensioners in NGCA depend on their pensions as the only source of income. In practice this policy denies access to pensions for the most vulnerable who are not able to travel to GCA ― for example, people with reduced mobility and those who are not able to afford covering travel and other related expenses. It is critical that the Government of Ukraine ensures that all citizens can enjoy access to their right to a pension regardless of their place of residence. Consequently, people’s eligibility to claim their pensions should be de-linked from a requirement to be registered as an internally displaced person.
  • People move through the contact line for family visits, to check on their property, to obtain their pension, to get documentation, or to access services such as healthcare. However, due to the limitations imposed on crossing the contact line, and heavy bureaucratic requirements, every month hundreds of thousands of civilians struggle to cross the contact line. People wait in queues for hours at EECPs with insufficient facilities such as toilets, drinking water, health services, and shelter from extreme temperatures. This proves to be extremely hazardous to life and health, especially for older persons. Quite often, older persons are not able to move through the contact line with essential items (including medicines and food) if those items fall outside the list of allowed goods. People have to regularly renew their electronic passes — a challenging and time-consuming procedure, especially for older people who have no access to computers and internet connection. NRC and HAI recommend that the authorities in charge (1) ensure funding for the proper maintenance of the EECPs; (2) at minimum, enforce the provision on the electronic passes for an indefinite period, and (3) replace the list of allowed goods by an exhaustive list of prohibited goods. It is also important to make the information on any new rules or regulations available and accessible for older persons.

The full and non-discriminatory enjoyment of human rights by older persons is inextricably linked to their social integration and inclusion, which defines the quality of life and safeguards the respect of their dignity.

HAI and NRC believe that, in times of crisis, older people can and do play a key role in supporting younger members of society.

Respect for human dignity and considering all those we aim to serve – younger, older, or displaced – as a community resource unites both NRC and HAI, and provides the foundation for our collaboration.

Through our partnership, NRC and HAI respond holistically to humanitarian needs in Ukraine, where almost one-third of the conflict-affected people are older persons.

On this day, the International Day of Older Persons, we reaffirm our commitment to promote and protect the rights of older persons, and to support them, their families, and their care-givers.

We call upon all concerned authorities to ensure that older persons fully and equally enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Note to editors:

NRC and HAI have spokespersons in Ukraine

 

For more information, please contact:

NRC in Ukraine:

Kristina Nechayeva: Kristina.Nechayeva@nrc.no +38 050 468 4524; +38 067 828 5844

Global:

Media hotline, info@nrc.no, +47 905 62329

HAI in Ukraine:

Victoriia Panchenko: Panchenko.Victoriia@helpage.org +38 050 426 4199

HAI in Ukraine hotline, +38 099 708 39 61, info.ukr@helpage.org