As the conflict in Ukraine escalates, the HelpAge international team stays on the ground to continue supporting older people. HelpAge International’s Area Manager in Ukraine, shares her first-hand experience.
“We believed to the last that the invasion would not happen. We relied until the very end on common sense, on a diplomatic solution.
But when the fighting did begin, many people still hoped for the best or were sceptical, thinking “now they will scare us a little, and then there will be negotiations.”
I immediately notified all my colleagues when I learned the invasion had begun, making sure they had their emergency bags packed and ready to go.
HelpAge’s office is located in Sloviansk, a 20-minute drive away from Kramatorsk where the fighting is taking place and we can constantly hear explosions. Some of our volunteers work in the areas where the combat is happening. They hear even more explosions and see military vehicles passing.
Some locations where we work are no longer under the control of Ukraine. We are trying to find out what is happening with our volunteers, and if everything is okay with the older people we work with.
Many of our volunteers are older people themselves. They are active and responsible, and are an example to follow. They are very happy when we contact them as it supports them psychologically. Most of them are ready to continue supporting their peers, no matter what.
Many people fled to the big cities, hoping that the fighting would not reach there, or at least there would be more opportunities for protection, such as taking refuge in the subway. Like everyone, older people would like to flee, but those who can hardly move often have no such option.
My emergency bag is packed, but I hope that I will not have to move anywhere. There is a bomb shelter 300 meters away from my house but I am afraid that I won’t be able to get there in time.
What is happening is a double tragedy for me. My mother was Russian and I have many friends living in Moscow. I can’t communicate with them normally, and they are also lost and confused.
We are experiencing interruptions in communication: the mobile connection and the Internet are unstable. There is no communication at all in combat areas. There is also no light, heating, or water.
There are a lot of fakes in social media and instant messengers that sew panic. My colleagues and I pay great attention to fact-checking all information.
We don’t know now how far this will go, how many more civilian casualties or destruction there will be. And hope that the talk of nuclear weapons will not come to anything.
I try to use special mental techniques to control stress. I would love to rewind time. We had so many plans, we had slowly begun to recover, but now everything has gone wrong.
I look forward to peace talks with hope.
Thank you to the entire HelpAge International team and everyone who supports us, this is very important.”