Side Event on Human Rights in Ukraine - Older Persons’ Experience of War and Displacement in Ukraine
Author: Jakob Lindelöf
While much media attention has been given to the human rights violations committed by Russian forces since the start of their invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the side event on human rights in Ukraine has focused specifically on the experiences of the elderly population. So an often forgotten group was taken into account in terms of the war and displacement they have faced since 2014 and now with the Russian invasion. The elderly populations caught in conflict zones are more vulnerable as they are more likely to remain than younger populations. They often have a harder time fleeing due to disabilities, the fact that it is too dangerous to leave, or sentimental values as their identity is tied to the area they live in. To leave their homes would be, in Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities Gerard Quinn’s words, “soul-destroying”.
According to Laura Mills in her report by Amnesty International, almost 1 in 4 in Ukraine are above the age of 60 meaning that the ongoing war is one the conflicts that disproportionately impacts the elderly more than others. From statistics reported by Amnesty, the elderly face a higher risk as they make up 34% of civilian deaths and 28% injuries between February to September 2022. Between 2014 and 2022, the elderly represent 30% of civilian casualties.
The war has made it impossible for people in need of medicines and other health services to obtain them, particularly in areas occupied by Russian forces, who have blocked aid to these areas. The occupation also means that people are less likely or unable to flee their situation.
Other issues faced by the elderly population is the lack of technology including smartphones which are used to communicate vital information through apps such as WhatsApp. Thus, there is a lack of information for people in the Russian-occupied territories. This also includes those who have been forcefully transferred and deported to Russia, in what Amnesty International calls a war crime and “a likely crime against humanity”.
Once the elderly population find themselves displaced after being forced to leave their homes they face higher rates of poverty than other parts of the Ukrainian population. This includes being unable to access affordable housing or housing at all. They also face age discrimination and a lack of support for those with disabilities. Many places which the elderly find themselves in are also not equipped to assist the elderly, especially those with disabilities.
When it comes to supporting the elderly communities impacted by war it was highlighted that they must be involved in strategies aimed at accommodating their needs.
The Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, Ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko, says that steps have been taken including assistance with evacuations, securing the access to pension and other social benefits which the elderly depend on to survive, and assisting with other needs.