GENEVA - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing to the government of Ukraine in Kyiv and Russian-backed authorities in eastern Ukraine to provide basic services and pension benefits to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people struggling to survive in the rebel-held parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
With the conflict in Ukraine in its fourth year, more than 10,000 people have been killed as sporadic fighting continues between Russian-backed rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine, and the death toll continues to mount.
Among the living, those who are suffering the most include nearly 1.6 million internally displaced in eastern Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency says they are struggling to find safety, adequate housing and employment.
UNHCR spokesman Andrei Mahecic says more than 580,000 retired and elderly people residing in the conflict zone have lost access to their government pensions and are having great difficulty making ends meet.
“This has affected the most vulnerable groups, as many of them depend on pensions and social [subsistence] payments as their sole source of income. Those living in non-government controlled areas are required to register as internally displaced people with Ukrainian authorities in order to have access to their rightful pensions and social payments.”
Mahecic says these benefits should be de-linked from the place of residence. Regardless of the political situation, he tells VOA these pensions belong to the elderly retirees and they should not be withheld.
“That is why we are appealing that they have full access to their rightful pensions and social [subsistence] payments and other benefits that they have and that they have acquired during their working life,” Mahecic said.
The UNHCR says displacement is causing extreme hardship for more than 50,000 people with disabilities who have been forced to flee their homes. It says they lack access to services and often face difficulties and discrimination based on their disability, ethnic or religious background.
It says one of its major concerns is the use of civilian houses along the frontline of the conflict zone for military purposes. It says stationing combatants and weapons in residential areas puts civilians at great risk during fighting.