Millions of older people caught up in the war in Ukraine are being overlooked in the humanitarian response, despite making up a quarter of the country's population.

100 Days on: Millions of older people missing out in the response to the world’s oldest humanitarian crisis

Millions of older people caught up in the war in Ukraine are being overlooked in the humanitarian response, despite making up a quarter of the country’s population.


Millions of older people caught up in the war in Ukraine are being overlooked in the humanitarian response, despite making up a quarter of the country’s population, HelpAge International warns today (June 3).
new survey from HelpAge International in western and central Ukraine offers an insight into the challenges and specific needs of displaced people over 60. Tomorrow marks 100 days since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine.

The survey reveals:

  • Almost nine out of ten older people (89%) have a health condition, including hypertension (57%), heart problems (50%), joint aches and pains (41%) and gastro-intestinal issues (20%).
  • 71% of those with a health condition have more than one.
  • Only 43% have full access to medication, with 12% reporting they have no access at all.
  • 43% have at least one disability, with just over a third (34%) saying they have mobility issues, 14% with poor sight, 8% facing challenges with remembering and 6% with communicating.
  • Almost three-quarters (74%) said their biggest need was cash. This would give them the freedom to access what they need most.
  • When asked what their secondary needs were, seven in 10 (70%) said medicine and healthcare and six in ten (61%) said hygiene items.
  • 8% have no access to safe drinking water.
  • Only half are formally registered as Internally Displaced People and receive social benefits. More than two-thirds (69%) have not been consulted by a humanitarian agency since the escalation.
Justin Derbyshire, HelpAge International’s CEO, said: “This is a wake-up call for urgent action to address the very real, hard and desperate needs of older people in Ukraine. 
“The humanitarian system too often fails to respond to older people’s specific needs. Failure to put older people at the heart of this response when so many older people are in this war, would be shameful. We must get this right and we need to see action now for Ukraine and other emergencies across the world where older people continue to be ignored and left behind.”
Across the country, many older people remain within their homes, many in areas of intense fighting. They need access to shelter, food, water, medicines, emotional support and access to their pensions, even though these fall short in covering their basic needs. 
There are older people who are helping others, including other older people and children. But many are also among more than 8 million internally displaced, or the 6.6 million refugees, and require specific support for the long journeys, navigating new areas and accessing services they need.
It is widely recognised that older people have specific needs that must be addressed as part of an inclusive and effective humanitarian response. But they are rarely prioritised. 
Even before the escalation of the war in February, a third of all people in Ukraine affected since it began in 2014 were over-60. And while there are many older people who are doing so much to help others, action to address the needs of others must be ramped up.
Orla Murphy, Ukraine Humanitarian Response Manager for HelpAge, who was recently in Ukraine said: “The level of trauma and need that so many older people have is beyond belief, particularly among those who have already endured eight years of war in the east of the country.
“As we approach 100 days of full-scale war, it’s time the global community acknowledged the horrors and the challenges of the older generation and stopped putting them at the back of the queue.”
HelpAge International has been operating in Ukraine since 2014 and its network of volunteers continues to provide emotional support to people isolated in their homes in eastern Ukraine. They have also helped with food distributions, as well as delivering hygiene items. The organisation is setting up programmes to support older people who are internally displaced and in care homes in Lviv, Dnipro and surrounding areas.
In a new advocacy brief: No Time for Business as Usual, HelpAge International outlines how a humanitarian response without older people’s needs being front-and-centre is unacceptable. It praises the working groups set up to support older people and those with disabilities in Ukraine. But the absence of disaggregated data on older people, disabilities and gender, gaps in leadership and a lack of commitment to prioritise older people means that efforts to support them are hampered.
HelpAge International is calling on humanitarian organisations in Ukraine to prioritise older people so their needs are met whether at home, in care homes or internally displaced. Hosting countries must also ensure that older people’s rights are upheld, including prioritisation at border and transit points and protection for those facing additional risks, such as older people with disabilities and older women.
Meanwhile UN bodies must provide the leadership needed so older people are central to the wider humanitarian response. This includes increased staff capacity at OCHA and the UNHCR, and a commitment to collect new gender, age and disability data that is then analysed appropriately so the needs, perspectives, rights and challenges of older women and men are identified. Donors and governments must also prioritise the needs of older people, so funding is available to implement a more inclusive humanitarian response.

Notes to editors

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Content and interviews
Interview opportunities available (with pictures):
New content from Dnipro:
  • Ana, 62, tells of life at home in Severodonetsk before she was evacuated with four generations of her family to Dnipro.
  • Lyubov, 77, who left her home in eastern Ukraine after shelling blew out the windows. She now uses an old sewing machine to update clothes, living in an IDP shelter in Dnipro.
  • Raisa, 71, who was evacuated in May with her husband, Alexander, from their home in Severodonetsk, where they say there has been no water, electricity or gas since the war started. They have not seen members of their family since 2014.
  • Valentina, 81, who was born in Russia and moved to Ukraine as a child. She sees herself as part of the generation that built her hometown of Severodonetsk. Details of her life before and the challenges she now faces as an IDP in Dnipro with her sister and brother-in-law.
  • Valentina, 68, who left Lisichansk with her youngest son and grandson and worries desperately for the family she left behind. 
Additional content:
Related article:
The Rapid Needs Assessment survey is based on 569 interviews, 218 of which were with people over 60. It was carried out in the oblasts of Chernivetska and Lvivska in western Ukraine and Dnipropetrovska in central Ukraine between 6 and 11 May, 2022.