“On March 21, I left my house to smoke. A shell fell. I lost my arm”. Vladimir Lignov, 71, embodies the tragic fate of the elderly Ukrainians, invisible victims of the war that devastates his country.
The man, a former train conductor, walks slowly down the aisle of a reception center in Dniproa city in central Ukraine that became one of the main humanitarian centers in the country.
The left sleeve of his gray sweater is rolled up at the armpit.. It is difficult for him to explain what happened to him. He does not know what war he is a victim of, nor who launched the projectile in Avdiivkaan industrial hub in the Donetsk region that Moscow has made one of its priorities.
“I do not understand what is happening. In a week I need to change my bandage at Myrnohrad hospital [en plena zona de conflicto, donde fue amputado]. But they tell me that I have to leave in three days”repeat over and over again.
“Maybe it’s better to go to the cemetery. I don’t want to continue living”he sighs, as an old man limps past him in a red and blue striped cap.
Physical and mental suffering seems omnipresent among the elderly with whom he met AFP in the Dnipro shelter, a maternity hospital that reopened in March to temporarily house internally displaced persons.
A van just arrived from the eastern front. Volunteers try to get the elderly out of the vehicles and put them in wheelchairsbut some of them groan in pain.
Others seem lost. A man runs to grab some cigarettes as soon as he hits the ground. Right after, he hurriedly picks up his things, as if he has to leave quickly, when he has just arrived at a safe place after weeks of hell.
“The most difficult are those who spent a lot of time in basements”Explain Olga Volkovathe director of the center, where 84 retirees have arrived. “Many were left completely alone. Before the war, we helped them, but now, they have been abandoned to their fate.”he adds.
the elderly many times “they are forgotten, very vulnerable”during conflicts, confirms Federico Desidirector for Ukraine of the NGO Handicap International, which provides equipment and financial support to the Dnipro center.
Generally “isolated from the rest of their family” and “unable to use a telephone or communicate”are particularly “homeless” due to the uncertainties of war, he stresses.
Alexandra Vassiltchenkoan 80-year-old Russian from Ukraine, is luckier than average. Her grandson came to pick her up as soon as she arrived home in Dnipro.
An obvious consolation for the woman, after spending weeks “alone in [su] three-bedroom apartment” in Kramatosk [este]where a Russian attack on the train station recently killed at least 57 people.
The octogenarian, fearing what might happen, had stored some food. But “I always hid in the bathroom (…) I cried constantly. I was imprisoned in my house”said, wishing “the death” of “Vladimir Vladimirovich” Putin “and his children”.
According to Handicap International, citing figures from the Ukrainian authorities, some 13,000 elderly or disabled people have settled in the Dnipro region since the beginning of the Russian invasion and more than half a million passed through there.
The “house of mercy”a former dispensary converted into a shelter for the needy, since then it has welcomed the evacuees of Mariupol, the city besieged for more than a month by the Russians in the south, but also by the inhabitants of the east.
“If ten new establishments like ours are created, they will fill up right away”says Konstantin Gorchkov, who runs the center with his wife Natalia.
Thirty new residents joined the hundred who already lived there. One of them is Yulia Panfiorova83, who came from Lisichansk, in the Lugansk region, in the east.
This former economics professor tells how three missiles landed near her and broke her windows.
“It’s my third war”Remember, referring to the WWII (1939-1945) and the conflict that began in 2014 in Donbasof which Lugansk and Donetsk are part.
(Photos by ED JONES/AFP)
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