Six Months: Delivery, Impact and Challenges | News and blogs


Orla Murphy, HelpAge International’s Humanitarian Response Manager in Ukraine, reflects on the past six months of large-scale war in Ukraine and future plans to meet the longer-term needs of those caught up in a protracted war .

Orla Murphy, Humanitarian Officer for Ukraine, HelpAge International, visits displaced people and staff at a residential care facility for the elderly in Dnipro Oblast, Ukraine.

Just before February 24, everyone was preparing but no one thought an invasion was going to happen. So he did.

This had a direct impact on our staff and volunteers who were mostly in eastern Ukraine, where HelpAge International has been supporting older people since the conflict with Russia began in 2014.

They and millions of others have been displaced. They moved to Lviv, to Dnipro, left the country. Some had no choice but to leave behind older relatives.

The impact on them, as people and as humanitarians, has been colossal. But they took what they could, piled into trains and started working in new areas: meeting with different authorities, reaching out to other organizations to help those in need, all the while finding accommodation and getting up four times a night for the bomb shelter.

Their courage and determination enabled us to open two new offices – in Dnipro and Lviv – in a relatively short period of time. Through them, we distributed 35,000 food kits in Dnipropetrovska and Lviviska and Chernivetska oblasts further west.

Meanwhile, volunteers who remained in the east helped coordinate food distributions and continued to provide telephone support to more than 2,600 of the older people we previously worked with, helping them cope with trauma. of a war so close and precarious.

It is in large part thanks to our national staff and these volunteers that we have achieved what we have, and I remain in awe of what they have done.

A new answer

The broader response has been extraordinary. The volume of volunteers is changing the face of humanitarian action on a scale I have never seen before. They set up new organizations, providing food, clothing, shelter and support.

I have never experienced so much public generosity. Support has come from governments and people around the world, including the over £350m raised by the DEC appeal in the UK and over €226m from the public appeal in Germany.

This funding is very much needed. Ukraine is different and more complicated than most emergencies in that functioning government and systems are still in place. This requires a different approach, which has been difficult, especially with the pace of change and the uncertainty.

Ukraine is also in Europe so it’s expensive. Rent, for example, can be prohibitive for those who have fled their homes and lost almost everything, including their income. How can they also afford to buy food, fuel and other basic necessities for an unknown length of time?

Millions of older people have stayed at home despite the danger, either by choice or because of mobility difficulties. Many need food, medicine and access to healthcare – as well as emotional support as they face the horror of war alone. For older people who have moved, they often need specific support to help them navigate their new environment, find shelter and access the services they need, such as health care, pensions and life-saving drugs. Our assessment shows that 89% of displaced older people had a health problem while 12% did not have access to the medicines they needed.

The HelpAge response

A quarter of Ukraine’s population is over 60, and one in three people affected by the conflict in the east since 2014 – even before February – were older, making Ukraine the oldest humanitarian disaster in the world. Even so, the needs of older people are often overlooked by humanitarian response.

Our goal is to support older people and people with disabilities. We work with them, new organizations and local partners, listening to the challenges they face and giving them a chance to make key decisions for themselves. By shaping our plans with them, we are likely to be more efficient and focused.

With so many elderly or disabled people staying at home, rolling out our home care in the four oblasts where we work – Dnipropetrovska, Lviviska, Chernivetska and Kharkivska – is central to our work. We train volunteers who are themselves often older to help.

We have registered 4,000 displaced people in need of assistance and have set up a scheme for them to receive a lump sum payment from Ukraine Post to enable them to buy what they need for three months.

Our work to establish safe community spaces for older people to be heard and access services also continues.

Six months after the start of the war, thousands of displaced people are still living in collective centres. We give small grants to 38 centres. The inhabitants of the center and those who run it have decided on the most urgent needs. They bought beds, built badly needed bathrooms, bought food or just paid bills.

At the same time, we need to start looking at longer-term needs, helping people who know they won’t be going home because of the protracted nature of this war. They need support to adjust to this new future that they could not have imagined at this time last year.

Our goal is to help older people and people with disabilities regain control of their lives, despite the unpredictable situation they live in – and we are committed to doing the best we can.

By Orla Murphy, Head of Humanitarian Response in Ukraine.

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