Many older people serve in varied volunteer roles in this conflict, demonstrating resilience and strength in adversity. However, older people who require care and support are particularly vulnerable, often unable to leave, affected by lack of medicines and the inability of care givers to reach them with food or daily necessities of basic care. Many are also affected by direct or transgenerational war trauma stemming from the invasions of Ukraine during World War II, and while managing the psychological issues of declining health and dependency, the impact of perceiving to be a burden on family and society is heightened by experiences of powerlessness in the face of war related attacks and disruptions.
According to the United Kingdom Disasters Emergency Committee alliance of leading aid charities a survey of the eastern Donbas region, where fighting has been going on in places since 2014, indicated that more than 90% of the older population in this region need help to get food and cannot heat their homes in freezing conditions. Around 80% of older people report insufficient access to clean drinking water due to active shelling and airstrikes disrupting water supplies. More than a third of the older people are in urgent need of medication for chronic diseases, and three-quarters need hygiene items such as toothpaste, soap and toilet paper .
A 70-year old widow, Ekaterina, who now lives alone in her house in the eastern parts of Ukraine describes the situation as follows:
I am feeling very lonely. Because of the conflict, my daughters can't come to me. And I can't visit them, as I am afraid to abandon my house… The shelling is what worries me the most. What if they hit the house, and blast the windows, roof, doors out? Who will help me?” .
Living under such conditions is of course physically dangerous, but also extremely stressful and may result in despair, anxiety and psychological trauma among the older people left behind.Previously, research related to the Homeland war in Croatia (1991-1995), has stressed that it is extremely difficult for older people to cope with high levels of war-related stress .
Older persons, then in Croatia and now in Ukraine, usually have a lower educational status, their economic potential has diminished and many of them are widows or widowers. These facts anticipate the vulnerability of older adults and put them into a more unfavorable position regarding their capacity to cope with crises, compared to the younger adults. Their sources of social support, either emotional or material, that might help them cope with stress better, are also significantly reduced. Therefore, greater incidence of morbidity may be expected among the older persons, which makes them a special high-health-risk population. Those separated from their families and those completely alone will probably need the greatest assistance, psychological, social and medical .
EFPA Executive Council and Head Office have now set up a Psychological Support Hub regarding the war in Ukraine. This Hub focuses on sharing resources, exchanging information and best practices, and citing guidelines for provision of services during the war .
We highly recommend that the older people affected by the war be mentioned explicitly and be considered by the psychologists and other specialists who can offer help.