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‘She’s still lying in her bed’ Snapshots of how Russia’s war turned the lives of elderly Ukrainians upside down

Source: Meduza

According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, at least 221 children have been killed and 408 have been injured during Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine. These statistics are updated regularly. But data on how Russia’s war has affected elderly people in Ukraine doesn’t feature in the authorities’ daily reports. Meduza has compiled photographs that tell the stories of Ukraine’s elderly — including those who are still awaiting evacuation, and those who are unable or unwilling to leave their homes, despite the threat of bombing and shelling. This photo report also includes the text of a letter from Viktoria — a reader from the Luhansk region who wrote to Meduza about her grandparents.

A 92-year-old woman sheltering in a bunker inside a factory waits for the Ukrainian Red Cross to evacuate her. Sievierodonetsk, eastern Ukraine. April 22, 2022. 
Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
An elderly man living alone in Kharkiv marks the days on his apartment door so his neighbors know he’s still alive. May 3, 2022.
Alexandra Kostenko on Facebook 
Igor, 67, hugs his cat while showing journalists his home in Zhytomyr, which was destroyed by Russian bombing. March 20, 2022. 
Roman Pilipey / EPA/ Scanpix / LETA
Valentin Vasilenko, 83, was the only resident of Teterivske, a village not far from Kyiv. After Russian troops invaded, Ukrainian forces evacuated Valentin and volunteers found him a new home. March 31, 2022. 
Stringer / EPA/ Scanpix / LETA
Lydia Mezhiritskaya in her home, which was damaged in an explosion. Kharkiv, April 8, 2022. 
Thomas Peter / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
Zinaida Makishayeva, 82, survived the Russian occupation of Borodyanka in March 2022. She’s standing in the doorway of her kitchen. A shell from a Russian Grad launcher destroyed a chicken coop on her property. According to Makishayeva, Russian troops advanced on Borodyanka in three waves. The first wave was the harshest. April 13, 2022. 
Zohra Bensemra / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
Zinaida Makishayeva survived World War II and the Russian occupation in the spring of 2022. She hopes the Russian army will never return to her village. April 2022. 
Zohra Bensemra / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
Valentina Saroyan sits in the basement of a school in the village of Yahidne, which is located south of Chernihiv. Russian forces held all of Yahidne’s residents in this very basement for a month. April 12, 2022. 
Evgeniy Maloletka / AP / Scanpix / LETA
The residents of Yahidne marked the days they were held captive on the basement’s door. To the right of the door they recorded the names of those who died in the basement — to the left, they recorded the names of those who were shot by Russian troops. April 12, 2022. 
Evgeniy Maloletka / AP / Scanpix / LETA
Varta, 81, sits in the back of the car she and her family drove through a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. April 22, 2022. 
Roman Pilipey / EPA / Scanpix / LETA
An elderly woman sits on the side of the road near Kharkiv while awaiting evacuation. May 2, 2022. 
Ricardo Moraes / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA
Taisiya Tarasova, 82, decided to stay in her apartment in Kyiv and relies on volunteers to bring her food and medicine. These volunteers look after the elderly who either decided to stay in their homes or were left behind by relatives. March 23, 2022. 
Carol Guzy / ZUMA Press / Scanpix / LETA
Nadezhda Yerukhimovich, 89, had been bedridden for three months when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Unable to evacuate, she stayed in her apartment in Kyiv. Mikhail Yerukhimovich, Nadezhda’s 54-year-old son, also stayed behind to look after her. Mikhail is concerned about shortages of the medication his mother takes, especially painkillers. March 26, 2022. 
Carol Guzy / ZUMA Press / Scanpix / LETA
Nadezhda Yerukhimovich’s slippers. March 26, 2022.
Carol Guzy / ZUMA Press / Scanpix / LETA

On April 10, Meduza’s editors received the following letter in response to a call for readers to share their personal stories:

“My name is Viktoria, I’m from the city of Rubizhne [in the Luhansk region of Ukraine]. In 2014, we were forced to leave the city because of hostilities: my parents took me, my brothers, and sister to Russia. The rest of my relatives and loved ones stayed in Rubizhne. 

Now, almost eight years later, I understand that what’s happening in the city can’t be compared to 2014. My father’s mother and sister were able to get out of Rubizhne a few weeks ago. They spoke of corpses in the streets; about how the courtyards of my city were turned into small cemeteries; about my next door neighbor who was also buried in the courtyard; about looting; about [their] destroyed building; about evacuation under constant shelling and crossing a destroyed bridge on the way to Starobilsk. 

At the moment, my grandmothers are still in Rubizhne — Tatyana, who was born in 1951, and Evgenia, who was born in 1927, as well as my grandfather Vladimir (on my mother’s side), who was born in 1949. Two days ago we received a goodbye message that said their barn was on fire, that they were unable to carry Grandma Zhenya [Evgenia], and that they didn’t know if they’d be saved. They wrote: ‘Farewell.’ I don’t know if they’re still alive or if I’ll see them again.”

Later, in response to our questions about the fate of her grandparents, Viktoria wrote the following:

“Grandma Tatyana and Grandpa Vladimir escaped, they were able to evacuate on April 14. Grandma Zhenya is gone. She died of hunger and dehydration. She’s still lying in the house: in her room, in her bed.” 

Translation by Eilish Hart

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