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New hope for pensioners struggling to survive in Ukraine

Ukraine. Families wait to pass through a checkpoint in Marinka, close to the conflict zone

New hope for pensioners struggling to survive in Ukraine

Landmark court ruling is expected to help restore state retirement benefits to elderly people caught up in Eastern Ukraine conflict.
11 September 2018
The elderly can spend hours waiting to cross checkpoints in eastern Ukraine.

Like many pensioners, 87-year-old Nadiia is required to visit an office in a nearby town every three months to prove her identity and go through verification procedures as an internally displaced person (IDP).

But after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage six years ago, she can barely move.  As a consequence, she has been unable to claim her much-needed state pension for months.

“I cannot take her there,” says her daughter Natalia, who lives with Nadiia in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. “She can’t survive the trip. Why do I need that money at such a price?”

Now, the Supreme Court of Ukraine has adopted a landmark decision that is expected to help hundreds of thousands of elderly people like Nadiia restore access to their pensions.

"She can’t survive the trip."

The ruling upholds the claims of an IDP whose pension had been suspended since April 2017 and confirms that cumbersome verification requirements which have caused hundreds of thousands to lose access to their pensions do not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has noted the development after repeatedly voicing the importance of de-linking IDP registration and pensions.  Ukrainian NGO and UNHCR partner organization ‘Right to Protection’ provided legal representation to the pensioner in the case.

“The conflict in Ukraine has unique demographics with the elderly constituting a significant proportion of affected people – almost 30 per cent of the 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, and half of registered IDPs,” says Pablo Mateu, UNHCR’s Representative in Ukraine.

“For many of them, their pensions constitute essential income. It is important that Ukraine’s government follows this first positive step and simplifies unnecessary procedures for IDPs so they are treated in the same way as all other citizens of Ukraine. Rights and freedoms provided in international and national legal frameworks must be accessible for all.”

Ukraine. Internally displaced persons
Nelia (left) spent hours waiting beside this mobile bank at Novotroitske checkpoint.

The conflict erupted in the region in 2014, leaving 3.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Anatoliy, 66, is too ill to leave his home. He lives in the non-government controlled areas of eastern Ukraine and has not been able to cross the contact line to validate his registration as an IDP for a long time. Recently, the Pension Fund suspended the payment of his pension and his wife was forced to travel long distances to seek legal advice, while he stayed at home without support.

Even those who can cross are struggling. “I’ve had no pension since January,” says Nelia, 70, who crosses into government-controlled territory through the Novotroitske checkpoint. “I used to work in the quarry over there. Now I don’t understand why I am not receiving my money. I’ve spent two hours waiting at this checkpoint.”

Both Anatoliy and Nelia hope last week's landmark court ruling will make accessing their pensions easier.

UNHCR has reiterated the importance of continued support to Ukraine, as the country struggles through the fifth year of conflict.

Natalia and her mother are hoping for a brighter, safer future together.

“Do not be afraid, daughter,” Nadiia promises Natalia. “We will survive.”