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Ukraine: older people unable to access housing as winter grips - new report

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Older people killed and injured at higher rates than other groups, with older people left behind in conflict-damaged houses 


Air raid shelters often inaccessible for older people with disabilities, while at least thousands placed in state institutions after losing their homes 


‘Russia’s devastating invasion is having a disproportionate impact on older people in Ukraine’ - Laura Mills


Older people in Ukraine have been disproportionately impacted by death and injury during Russia’s invasion and are unable to access housing on an equal basis with others after being displaced, Amnesty International said in a major new report today.


The 96-page report - ‘I used to have a home’: Older people’s experience of war, displacement, and access to housing in Ukraine, based on interviews with 226 people and visits to seven state institutions - shows how older people in Ukraine have often remained in - or have been unable to flee - conflict-affected areas, exposing them to harm and dangerous living conditions in severely damaged housing. 


Those who have escaped the conflict have often been unable to afford to cover rising rental costs, while thousands have been forced to remain in overstretched state institutions which lack the staff to provide a necessary level of care. While some older people have chosen to stay behind in their homes, others told Amnesty they were unable to flee because information about evacuations was less accessible to them. 


Liudmyla Zhernosek, 61, who lives in Chernihiv with her 66-year-old husband who uses a wheelchair, said: 

“I saw every day younger people walking alongside my building with backpacks on. Only later I found out from others in the stairwell that they were going to the centre of the city, there were still evacuations from there. But that would have been 40 minutes on foot, I couldn’t get there with my husband. Nobody told us about evacuations, I always found out only afterwards.” 

Amnesty also documented older people living in damaged housing without electricity, gas or running water. When Amnesty interviewed Hanna Selivon, 76, in Chernihiv, only the bathroom, where volunteers had put a mattress in the bathtub to allow her to sleep, had covering overhead. Hanna said:

“Everyone on our street left. The only people left were me and two other older women ... One had a disability. We just had nowhere to go. I would hide in a hole in my cellar … On 29 March, there was a lot of shelling, and when I came out [from the cellar] I just saw that flames were flying … that [my house] was burning. My legs wouldn’t move.”

Laura Mills, Amnesty International’s researcher on older people and people with disabilities, said:

“Russia’s devastating invasion is having a disproportionate impact on older people in Ukraine, with many staying behind in areas where they regularly come in harm’s way from relentless ground and air attacks.


“Older people are often either staying in unsafe homes or, when they are able to flee, end up in shelters that do not have adequate resources to meet their needs, particularly if they have disabilities.


“As the harsh grip of winter takes hold, the international community must urgently take action to bolster support for this group.”

Disproportionate risks

In Ukraine, people over 60-years-old comprise nearly a quarter of the population and older people are disproportionately vulnerable to attacks. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, people over 60 made up 34% of civilians killed from February to September for cases in which an age was recorded. 


Older people, who more frequently have health conditions, are also at a greater risk in occupied areas, where Russian forces have severely restricted the access of humanitarian aid, in flagrant violation of international law.


Svitlana*, 64, who was in a Russian-occupied village near Kharkiv, said that her 61-year-old brother collapsed from a stroke in April. He was hospitalised, but the hospital didn’t have electricity or running water and he was discharged the next day. “They couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t do an electrocardiogram, they couldn’t do an encephalogram, they had no medications,” Svitlana said. Less than a week later, her brother died from a second stroke, according to a death certificate seen by Amnesty.

High rental costs and rising institutionalisation

Many displaced older people have struggled to find suitable accommodation. Pushed out of the private market by increased rental prices and pensions that are well below subsistence levels, many older people are at heightened risk of losing access to housing altogether.


Nina Silakova, 73, who was displaced from the Luhansk region, was evicted twice from rented apartments: once in August after she had a heart attack and her landlady feared having to care for her, and again in October. Nina was worried she wouldn’t be able to find a third apartment. She said:

“There are no places for that price in the city because there are so many [displaced people] … I don’t know where to turn… Should I go out into the street, stand there and ask people? People will just pass by and think I am an ill old grandmother.”

Amnesty also found that shelters were often physically inaccessible to older people with disabilities and did not have enough staff to support them. As a result, older people with disabilities often had no choice but to live in a state institution. Between February and July alone, at least 4,000 older people were placed in state institutions after losing their homes during the conflict, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy. 


Olha Volkova, who runs a shelter for displaced older people with disabilities in Dnipro, said:

“About 60% of the people [get sent to institutions]. They can’t afford to rent housing, to pay for utilities, to eat. And so we have to send them to nursing homes.”

Amnesty visited seven institutions for older people and people with disabilities in Ukraine, and found these facilities were unable to provide the requisite level of care - particularly for older people with limited mobility - in part because they don’t have sufficient staff to care for them. Independent Ukrainian monitors reported that such conditions were common before the invasion, which has only exacerbated staffing shortages.

“They turn me over only once when they change my diaper in the morning, once when they change my diaper in the evening… We’re abandoned here,” said Liudmyla, 76, who lives in an institution in Kharkiv region. “In a nursing home there is basically no rehabilitation,” said Olha Volkova. “A person will lie down there until they die.” 

Ukrainian government efforts

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has had a devastating impact on civilians of all ages, especially threatens the physical security of older people and has forced millions from their homes. Ultimately, the most expedient way to protect the rights of older civilians in Ukraine is for Russia to end its unlawful war. Amnesty has repeatedly called for members of Russian forces and officials responsible for the aggression against Ukraine and for violations of international law to be held to account. 


As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, civilian infrastructure and services have come under intense pressure. The Ukrainian government has made significant efforts to evacuate people from conflict-affected areas, including by announcing the mandatory evacuation of around 200,000 people from the Donetsk region in July. The Ukrainian authorities must also do all they can to ensure monitors are able to access state institutions and ensure that older residents are among those prioritised for alternative housing.

International efforts

The cost and logistics of ensuring housing for older people displaced by the war should not be Ukraine’s alone. 


Amnesty is calling on other countries to facilitate the evacuation of older people - with special attention paid to those with disabilities - to accessible accommodation abroad where possible. In addition, international organisations should do more to financially support older people so they can afford to rent new homes in Ukraine and, working together with the Ukrainian authorities, include them among those prioritised for placement in any newly-built accommodation.

View latest press releases

‘I used to have a home’: Older people’s experience of war, displacement, and access to housing in Ukraine