Social workers’ visits provide consolation for senior Ukrainians in front-line cities.

In Sloviansk, Ukraine, Larisa, 76, lives by herself. Since before the war, she hasn’t left the house. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR In Sloviansk, Ukraine, Larisa, 76, lives by herself. Since before the war, she hasn’t left the house.

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (Claire Harbage/NPR) Larisa resides by herself on the fourth level of an apartment complex. The 76-year-old needs a walker to get around because she is unable to climb or descend stairs. She hasn’t left the house since the Ukraine was invaded by Russia.

Only three people are still living in her building, which is an indication of how well-off this eastern front city has been. Glass fragments from a recent missile strike that struck the building across the street are still scattered throughout the building’s hallways.

Larisa leads a solitary life because her sister and brother each reside in a different part of Ukraine. However, she claims that if city social worker Svitlana Domoratska didn’t make many weekly visits, it would be even more difficult.

A social worker in Sloviansk, Svitlana Domoratska, strolls through the city to visit elderly, housebound people. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR A social worker in Sloviansk, Svitlana Domoratska, strolls through the city to visit elderly, housebound people.

NPR/Claire Harbage Larisa, who requested that NPR not use her last name because she lives close to the violence, says, “I rely on her.” I make several attempts to do things on my own, but it’s quite challenging.

Older adults make up a large portion of those who are residing near the Ukrainian war’s front lines. They remain behind due to their late age or ill health and struggle with a lack of access to food, water, heat, and medical care.

Additionally, they endure nightly missile and shelling strikes. Attacks have been occurring in Sloviansk for more than six months, just 15 miles from the battle line. According to the mayor, only 20% of the city’s more than 100,000 prewar people remain. They’re mostly older than 60.

In Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, where there have been attacks for the previous six months, a structure was recently damaged by shelling. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden

switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR In Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, where there have been attacks for the previous six months, a structure was recently damaged by shelling.

NPR/Claire Harbage One of the ten social workers who are still in Sloviansk, Domoratska’s responsibility is to visit elderly citizens many times a week to ensure they are doing well. There were 40 social workers in the city before the war.

The folks she visits don’t want to go, she claims. “They are all by themselves, yet they are also in a setting they are accustomed to. They are aware of this. And occasionally, this is the only thing they have.”

Domoratska, 43, assists Larisa with cooking and cleaning at her flat. She delivers Larisa food and medicine while also keeping her company. They frequently watch a travel show on TV together as “a distraction,” according to Larisa, from the almost continual explosions and air raid sirens.

Larisa is unable to climb stairs and must use a walker to get around her apartment. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR Larisa is unable to climb stairs and must use a walker to get around her apartment.

NPR/Claire Harbage Larisa’s primary concern is not the conflict even if the sirens are blaring. Winter is here. Shelling has cut off the city’s natural gas supply, and it won’t be fixed in time for the winter heating season. As a result, Slovyansk has been ordered to evacuate.

Even though it’s only September, Larisa points to an electric heater that is already switched on in her apartment, which does have electricity.
I’ll wear all of my sweaters when it gets cooler, she declares. I will put on my fur coat.

In Sloviansk, where there were previously 40 social workers, Domoratska, 43, is one of ten still employed. She has twelve customers. Women between the ages of 30 and 62 make up all of the social workers who are still employed in the city. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden

switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR In Sloviansk, where there were previously 40 social workers, Domoratska, 43, is one of ten still employed. She has twelve customers. Women between the ages of 30 and 62 make up all of the social workers who are still employed in the city.

Winter worries are shared by Domoratska, according to Claire Harbage/NPR. Seniors who lived alone in Sloviansk were passing away in their apartments even in the spring and summer. They lacked food, and occasionally neither the city nor their relatives knew.

According to the mayor’s assistant Svitlana Viunychenko, the city increased aid with evacuation. But she claims that because so many were unable or reluctant to leave, they went to social workers for updates.

Domoratska stayed at home with her husband, little kid, and dogs when the war first broke out. She was reluctant to leave Sloviansk because she personally has aging parents. But eventually she understood she had to return to work since others relied on her.

Larisa has artificial flowers all throughout her flat. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
a href=”Claire Harbage/NPR

“> Larisa has artificial flowers all throughout her flat.

NPR/Claire Harbage Her husband frequently brings her to her appointments so she doesn’t have to walk because he is unemployed due to the conflict. She works six days a week and typically visits four to six people each day. She has a total of twelve clients.

This week, a missile struck the home of a married couple in their 90s who are two of her clients. When she went to see them, she saw their apartment was covered with dirt, tree roots, and broken glass. She assisted in the cleanup. She claims that their survival was a miracle.

Domoratska walks a few blocks to Larisa’s apartment and climbs the stairs to see another woman. Explosions nearby are accompanied by multiple audible booms.
For a client named Anna,

Domoratska answers phone messages to inform family members that she is fine. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR For one of her clients, Anna, Domoratska returns phone messages to inform family members that she is fine.

NPR/Claire Harbage It’s now normal, she claims. “I continue to go there despite the sirens and explosions. They anticipate me. They get ready for my arrival.”

She bangs on a second-floor door.
She cries through the door, “Svitlana!”

A woman using a cane enters the door a short while later. She has layers on top of that plus a substantial sheepskin and wool vest.

86-year-old Anna displays the cross that hangs from her neck. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden
switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR 86-year-old Anna displays the cross that hangs from her neck.

NPR/Claire Harbage Anna, 86, is partially blind and hard of hearing. She requested that NPR only publish her first name because, like Larisa, she is frightened to use her last name during the war.

There are barely two slices of bread left for Anna when Domoratska brings her a loaf.

Sitting on her bed, Anna explains, “I name her Firefly.” She “brings brightness in a time of darkness.” Images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus are tacked to the walls behind her. Food scraps on a side table attract a swarm of flies.

Anna states, “I was born in Sloviansk. “Life was much better in the past. I used to teach.”

She pulls out pictures of her pupils. They used to go there before to the war. However, she claims that lately it has been really lonely. The worst experience a person can have, according to her, is loneliness. When air raid sirens sound, her niece, who is in her 60s, calls to check in and visits when she can. Other relatives of Anna’s family have either passed away or relocated.

At Anna’s house, flies are buzzing around food scraps. She has some vision loss. Right: Domoratska delivered Anna a loaf of bread that particular day. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden

switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR At Anna’s house, flies hover around food scraps. She has some vision loss. Right: Domoratska delivered Anna a loaf of bread that particular day.

Living alone during a war has its costs, writes Claire Harbage for NPR.

“I’m scared. I don’t get much rest at night, “She confesses while crying. “I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up if I do fall asleep.”

A number of explosions take place as she is speaking. Following each boom, the lace-draped windows tremble. She wipes her eyes, sighs deeply, and kisses the cross necklace she is wearing.

In her prayer, she begs for protection from the explosions.

1 In a corner of Anna’s house, a lit candle is placed on an altar. She asks for serenity in her prayers. Caption by Claire Harbage/NPR hidden

switch to caption Image by Claire Harbage/NPR In a corner of Anna’s house, a lit candle is placed on an altar. She asks for serenity in her prayers.

NPR/Claire Harbage She uses the Ukrainian word for grandma, “babushka,” and states that every grandmother “would do the same.” “All we want is peace,”

This article was contributed to by Hanna Palamorenko.

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