Photos: On Ukraine’s Front Lines, Women Endure War Alone | Gallery News

Amid a war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east that has killed an estimated 14,000 people since 2014, many vulnerable or elderly women have lost their husbands to the fighting and ill health. and survive alone near the front lines.

“My husband died of a heart attack and my only son disappeared. In my family, I am now the only woman left,” said Ala Nikolaevna, 73, a blind woman living in the Ukrainian town of Chasiv Yar, a few kilometers from the front line.

She cries as she remembers the last time she hugged her son Oleg, who disappeared shortly after joining a paramilitary group in 2014.

Nikolaevna, who is blind due to diabetes, now lives alone in her three-bedroom apartment. Her diabetes symptoms are getting worse and her general health is deteriorating because the heating doesn’t always work in the war zone, nor does she have regular access to clean water.

“When there is no heat, I put on all my clothes and pray. I have only one wish: that my son will hug me again,” she says.

Alyona, 41, a social worker and volunteer, brings food to Nikolaevna three times a week.

“Of the 12 people I work with, 10 are women,” Alyona, who did not want to release her last name due to the sensitive nature of her job, told Al Jazeera.

“Since the start of the war, all the men have joined the army or sought work in other parts of Ukraine, and now there are mainly women living alone on the front line.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) (pdf), 1.6 million of the 2.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine are women.

“In this region, the only job a man can do is to become a miner; therefore, many men suffer from serious health problems and die young,” Alyona added.

“The frontline villages are full of single mothers and babushkas (grandmothers).”

Lizaveta Zhuk, public information officer for OCHA Ukraine, told Al Jazeera that: “In areas controlled by the government of Ukraine, 71% of heads of households are women. This share is even higher for those over 60 and reaches 88%.

Jan Egeland, general secretary of the frontline NGO Norwegian Refugee Council, told Al Jazeera that eastern Ukraine’s predominantly female elderly population is very different from most other wars where the NGO is active.

“You can’t have a war in a place filled to the brim with elderly, freezing or vulnerable people, struggling to survive after eight years of conflict,” he said.

Comments are closed.