Ukraine’s elderly refugees in Moldova struggle with their new environment as war at home continues
One in four of Ukraine’s population are older persons, and over one million are affected by the ongoing war, and 3.5 million need humanitarian assistance, according to World Vision’s partner HelpAge. Of the reported 90,000 refugees in Moldova, 13,500 are estimated to be elderly.
“Just picture how things would be if we had to pay for all our medicines. We cannot afford all these goods. World Vision's assistance was extremely valuable for us,” said Natalia, now a Ukrainian refugee in Moldova. She used to live with her husband Ivan near Mykolaiv city, southern Ukraine, in a modest rural area.
As part of the Integrated emergency Services for Ukrainian Refugees in Moldova Project being implemented by HelpAge, supported by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Natalia, Ivan, and dozens of other elderly refugees received eyeglasses, glucose and blood pressure monitors, and hygiene packs.
The elderly refugees' well-being is negatively impacted by their financial and medical difficulties, demanding an urgent need for mental health care and psychosocial support. Natalia recalls that when she initially arrived in Moldova, she was distraught and constantly cried.
She started attending psychosocial activities organized by HelpAge where elderly Ukrainians and Moldovans get together once a week to talk about their struggles. They use their time productively by creating handmade crafts.
“Taking part in psychosocial activities makes me less anxious. I just shut off my mind for a few hours from everything that is happening in Ukraine,” said Natalia. She added, “Now, I cry less. I was quite sensitive a few months ago.”
“I noticed a close relationship between elderly Ukrainian refugees and Moldovans. They help each other with what they can, form connections and friendships,” shared Svetlana Arhirii, local coordinator of the the project and specialist in elderly and disability issues.
She continued, “They learn new things from each other, and on an emotional level, the impact of these connections is huge.”
Taking part in psychosocial activities makes me less anxious. I just shut off my mind for a few hours from everything that is happening in Ukraine.
Elderly Ukrainian refugees struggle financially
Natalia lives in Moldova with her daughter and grandson. She currently rents a small apartment two hours away from the capital city of Chisinau. Her daughter strives to find a job that will provide for the family's financial needs.
“She doesn’t speak Romanian and it is getting more difficult for her to get a job. I am concerned. How is she supposed to raise her nine-year-old son? How are we supposed to survive?”, she said.
She continued, “We rely on our pension to support the four of us.” The maximum monthly retirement income for Tatiana and her husband together is 2300 Moldovan lei, or around 120 USD. “Our utilities cost us 150 USD monthly,” she emphasized.
Through World Vision’s initiative with HelpAge, Tatiana and the rest of the elderly in need were provided with cash assistance. “We received the money in December 2022. My rent and utilities were covered since then by those funds. I do not know how we could have paid it otherwise,” she said.
Life before Moldova
The sharp sound of sixteen planes flying overhead reverberated through the grim streets of the small village in Mykolaiv Oblast. “It was terrifying,” recalled Natalia.
The entire village was left without heat, electricity, and running water. “We draped the windows of the house with blankets to prevent the glass from exploding,” recalled the elderly lady with deep sadness in her almond-shaped green eyes.
Facing multiple challenges, Tatiana, her daughter, and grandson travelled for more than 24 hours to seek refuge in Moldova. Ivan, Tatiana's husband, who suffered from serious medical conditions, had been bedridden for months. Too dangerous and difficult for him to move across the country, he remained in war-torn Ukraine.
“My husband spent weeks in the hospital due to his terrible illness. He was unable to eat or walk,” said Tatiana, wiping away her tears.
She added, “The main issue we encounter in Moldova is financial. I'm retired, and my pension is meager considering how much I must spend each day on food and medications. The cost of living is very high, including rent and utilities.”
After more than two months of shelter in Ukraine, with the aid of several volunteers, Ivan reached Moldova in May 2022. “My husband was gravely ill. His heart muscles were not contracting properly,” said Natalia. Arriving in Moldova, he underwent extensive medical treatment.
Ivan is currently on a prescription and is required to take six different medications daily. “He must take several pills. He has started eating now and he can move around. He couldn’t get out of bed a few months ago,” recalled Natalia.
She added, “The pharmacy vouchers from World Vision were extremely helpful since we didn’t have to pay for the medications prescribed for his much-needed treatment.”
To date, World Vision has reached more than 60,000 Ukrainian refugees and hosting families in 32 districts of Moldova, partnering with local organizations such as HelpAge, Food Bank, Step by Step, AVE Copiii and Communitas.
Overall, World Vision responded to the needs of over 650,000 Ukrainian refugees and host communities in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Georgia.
Story and photos by Laurentia Jora, Communications Officer