An older man with a disability sits on an old luggage cart preparing to cross the Stanitsa Luhanska border point in Eastern Ukraine. With wheelchairs rarely available, older people and others with mobility disabilities may resort to crossing by carts or sleds pushed by strangers, for a fee. April 6, 2018.

© 2018 John Wendle for Human Rights Watch

(Kyiv) – Ukraine’s new government should intensify efforts to protect the rights of older Ukrainians living in nongovernment-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was released today. Ukraine should end discriminatory policies and practices that affect the way older people living in those areas can access and collect their pensions.

“The challenge of disbursing social benefits to Ukrainians living in areas under the control of Russia’s proxies is a serious one for Ukraine’s government,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The existing policies regulating property rights of Ukrainians living in those areas are, simply put, discriminatory and they need to change.”

Ukrainian law requires pension-eligible Ukrainians living in the affected parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to register as internally displaced persons in government-controlled areas, to maintain residential addresses there, and to physically cross into those areas at least once every 60 days. People who fail to do so risk losing their pension.

Human Rights Watch summarized its research in eastern Ukraine on the experiences of older people, most of whom endure dangerous and unnecessarily frequent journeys across the line of contact. Human Rights Watch documented persistent but preventable conditions that make these crossings difficult for older people, particularly in the Luhansk region, which lacks a crossing point for motor vehicles. Many of the people seeking to collect their pensions have physical disabilities that impede their ability to walk. The letter further details stories of pensioners who have been unjustly denied pension payments.

Human Rights Watch made detailed recommendations to President Zelenskiy, urging him to support legal measures to stop linking pension eligibility to people’s displaced person status. The president should consider alternatives that would allow pensioners to minimize travel across the line of contact and improve conditions at the crossing points.  

“Current practices have an enormous, negative impact on older people, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Denber said. “The government can and should remove its bureaucratic hurdles to pension collection.”