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What it’s like to be a pensioner in Ukraine, living off $70 a month: Natalia’s Story

Before I arrived in Ukraine, I don’t think I really knew what poverty meant.

There are countless elderly people in Ukraine who right now are living in unimaginable hardship.

In the village of Vasylkivka in Eastern Ukraine, where my wife is from originally, I have joined Pastor Alexander and other local volunteers in visiting the homes of several elderly people, as part of our ministry with DHM.

It’s quite hard to put into words the conditions of abject poverty in which so many of these people are living. The root causes of poverty in Ukraine are complex and multifaceted, but the proximate cause, in many cases, is the inadequate level of support that society and the state give to its most vulnerable members. In the Dnipro region of Ukraine, the state pays a pension of around $70 (US dollars) per month.

If you are reading this from the UK, USA or anywhere else in Western Europe, try to imagine having to live off $70 per month. Even taking into account the relatively low costs of living in Ukraine, this is a pittance.

Yet pensioners in Ukraine have to make this tiny amount stretch to cover all their expenses. $70 per month can just about buy enough bags of rice, potatoes and buckwheat to prevent people from starving, but it isn’t enough to buy fuel to heat their homes in the winter.

On that amount, they can’t even think about such “extravagant luxuries” as fresh fruit or bread – things I (we?) tend to take for granted. Instead, they have to wait until the following day to buy stale bread from the local bakery, which is usually sold at less than half the price of the freshly-baked bread.

Take for example one old lady I visited a few years ago, named Natalia. Natalia is 68 year-old “babushka”, who lives on her own, having outlived both her husband and her only child, a son, who died in tragic circumstances some years earlier. Natalia suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. She is very frail, but can just about manage to leave the house to collect her pension every month and do her shopping.

The trouble is that after two or three weeks, her pension has run out and she doesn’t have enough money to buy her essential medication, which means that for the last week or two, until she can collect next month’s pension, she is extremely vulnerable to suffering a stroke or suffering a fatal seizure.

Thankfully, Natalia’s situation was brought to the attention of our local volunteers in Vasylkivka, who befriended her and who now visit her in her home almost every week, bringing supplies of fresh fruit and fresh bread and also bringing the essential medicines she needs to make sure she has enough tablets, at least to make it through to her next pension.

Natalia is just one example of an elderly person that DHM is helping to support through the assistance that we give to our volunteers on the ground in Ukraine. Whereas we can only visit once or twice a year for a few days each time, we have a dedicated team of volunteers on the ground who continue the ministry throughout the year – 365 days year-in year-out.

It is a blessing to be able to stand alongside our dedicated team of volunteers as they work against the odds to give a little bit of joy and comfort to people like Natalia.

Thank you for helping us to be a blessing.

DHM volunteer, Liliya, on a visit to Natalia in her home

Joshua Searle