A sinister lullaby cradles Yana’s transition to sleep each night. The woman, who lives almost perennially with her eyelids down, falls asleep between the warnings of the siren that warns of the possibility of a bombardment. Next to her, like a motionless witness, the old walker on which she supported herself until a pneumonia in the first days of the war left her lethargic in bed. “Stop all this,” Yana Nikolaevna, 80, stammers in an almost imperceptible voice. The slender figure of her portrayed in black and white decades ago, she watches from the window at which she was an English translator for the United Nations and at the university. “God bless you“, (God bless you, in English), is the formula that he adopts as a greeting before the visit. Sometimes he pronounces some words in that language, but almost always the forces are limited to his own, the Ukrainian.
Katia, a 50-year-old neighbor, is Yana’s main support after the only daughter she had in the capital – the other lives in Germany – fled when the Russian Army began the invasion on February 24. She is the one who washes her, who feeds her and who administers the medicines. Also the one who, with the help of the members of the proEnglish Theater, a cultural center in the area that these days serves as a neighborhood shelter, decided to move the bed away from the window and change its place with the wardrobe, which now serves as a parapet. Thus, in case of attacks in the neighborhood, she does not jump on the broken glass that is so friendly to wars. The sun lights up the yellow packing tape that makes cross-shaped patterns on the panes of the kitchen window. They are like band-aids put on before the injury occurs and it is, at the same time, a solution applied in thousands of homes. Yana’s house lacks adult diapers, which she needs, but for now, they have something they consider more important: electricity and heating.
The neighbor also explains that, once the woman falls asleep, she goes down to the shelter and spends the night there with part of her family. She has a husband, two children, her wife and three grandchildren. Not everyone is in Kiev these days, which makes it easier for her top priority these days: cushioning the old lady’s loneliness during the long hours of the day. She tells it through tears as she caresses Yana’s forehead, unable to hide the pain of leaving her alone in this apartment on the fifth floor of a Stalinist-era building in the Shulyavka neighborhood of Kiev.
With the lump in her throat and the furrows shining down her cheeks, the neighbor is forced to leave the room for a few seconds before returning to help continue giving testimony that helps to understand that conflicts are also entrenched far from the front line , which has not yet reached the center of Kiev.
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At the gates of the current war, last February, a third of the 2.9 million Ukrainians who then needed help were older people, according to data from the humanitarian organization HelpAge International. A quarter of the 44 million Ukrainians are over 60 years old, which makes this country the one with the highest percentage of older people affected by conflict in the world, according to the same source.
One of them is Ana, an 80-year-old historian and retired teacher who lives alone in a flat in a building in the center of Kiev that she shares with other people who need help even more than she does. “I don’t go to the shelter. Once I went down, but it’s hard to breathe there, ”she explains about the basement where, when the alarms sound, the inhabitants take shelter. “Also, there are four people here who need me to be by her side. They are my neighbors,” she adds.
A volunteer taxi driver brings them food these days. It is Vladimir, 28, who, with the arrival of the war, has sent his pregnant wife and his two small children to Poland. He now travels the streets of the Ukrainian capital in his electric car, which saves him from the increasingly long queues at gas stations, and alternates the customers he captures through a mobile phone application with solidarity races . He carries from handicapped people to pet food, medicine or food. He finds out about the services that need to be carried out through social networks.
“With weapons I’m not really useful. Until the end I would not like to use them. I trust in peace and that this ends with diplomatic talks. Destroying each other is not the most appropriate thing to do,” says Vladimir on the landing at Ana’s house. “I was surprised that it was free,” she says gratefully while, in exchange for his testimony, she forces the reporter to taste the forceful soup , the stuffed pancakes and the dried fruit juice that you just received.
The woman would see her pride hurt if she allowed the journalist to enter her house, which she says is very messy. She insists that she doesn’t go through the door. And she complies. But she spends all the time necessary to talk. “Russia has always said that he is our older brother. Do siblings behave this way?” she asks herself. “Imagine the buses full of people, the families sheltering in the basements with their children, down there without light, without water, very cold… how can you bear it?”, she insists. “We want peace here, but resolving this now peacefully is not easy.” And she recalls bucolic Kiev “pretty, green and prosperous, with its gardens, the river, the chestnut trees …”.
That bright and distant reality after more than two weeks of war and the militarized city has also evaporated in the Shuliavka neighborhood of the Ukrainian capital. There, Yana is sometimes delirious, like the day before this report was made in the middle of this week. That day, upon waking up from her, the translator told her neighbor Katia to pack their bags, that they were leaving, that they had come to look for them… From the windows there was no glimpse of anything or anyone. Below, the same snowy landscape among the bare branches of the trees. Regaining her consciousness shortly after, the lady accepts the harsh reality of her life subjected to a city at war. “No one waits for me, only my bed. I have nowhere to go.”
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