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article imageUkraine war traps care home, clinic residents on front line

By Dmytro GORSHKOV (AFP)     Aug 20, 2017 in World

Tamara Makarovna spends her afternoons sitting in a dilapidated armchair upstairs in her care home, watching an old TV set and talking to her neighbours.

Her way of life may seem peaceful at first glance, but the 81 year-old is a resident of a state-run care home in war-torn eastern Ukraine, just a few kilometres from the front line with the pro-Russian rebel insurgency.

She is one of thousands of elderly and ailing people, who have found themselves stuck in state institutions as the deadly conflict rages close by.

The silver-haired woman, wearing a colourful dressing gown and who only wished to be identified by her first and patronymic names, moved to her care home in the tiny village of Novomykhaylivka from a nearby town in 2011 after leg surgery left her unable to live alone.

This used to be a quiet place -- until the conflict hit eastern Ukraine in April 2014 and has since claimed some 10,000 lives.

The care home itself suffered a direct hit from a shell, Tamara says, recalling how frightened she had been.

"On December 7, 2014, I heard a noise and the glass in the windows began to rain down," she said.

Afterwards, the roof and walls were not fully repaired for more than a year.

Residents of a care home in the eastern Ukrainian village of Novomykhaylivka  just kilometres from t...
Residents of a care home in the eastern Ukrainian village of Novomykhaylivka, just kilometres from the front line with the pro-Russian rebel insurgency, take refuge in the basement in an emergency
, AFP

Reliant on a walking stick to help her get around, she and other residents are forced to take refuge in the basement of the care home in an emergency.

- 'Doubly hostage' -

Monitors from Ukraine's National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) watchdog carry out inspections of such state-run facilities and recently visited Novomykhaylivka accompanied by a couple of journalists, including from AFP.

"The war has dramatically affected" such facilities, NPM monitor Tetyana Pechonchyk told AFP, with about 50 care homes located within the conflict zone on both sides of the front line.

"These people were doubly taken hostage: not only are they unable to leave their institutions on their own, they are also trapped in the conflict."

The care home took a direct hit from shelling in 2014 but many residents have little choice but to s...
The care home took a direct hit from shelling in 2014 but many residents have little choice but to stay
, AFP

Residents in rebel-controlled areas face a lack of food and medicine, while for those in areas under Kiev control, the main problem is their proximity to the front line and the risk of death, Pechonchyk said.

Despite the threat from shelling, Tamara has opted to stay here.

She has never been married and has no close family, and the care home appears to be the only place where she can count on being looked after.

"I have nowhere else to go. Every day I ask the Lord to make them stop (fighting and shelling). I'll agree to anything -- if only they'll stop shooting."

The care home currently accommodates 31 people, who pay some 75 percent of their 1,300 hryvnias ($50 dollars, 44 euros) monthly pension to stay in the two-storey, grey-brick building.

"Our cooks prepare us soups, cereals. And on Thursdays, we sing songs and dance," Tamara said.

Her pension, she said, was "enough for small expenses".

"More than half the people have close relatives, but they are not wanted at home," said Ivan Svystelnyk, the director of the care home, which has the Soviet-style name House of Veterans.

- 'I want to go back' -

At a tuberculosis clinic  just 10 kms from the front line  about 10 patients are stuck  usually due ...
At a tuberculosis clinic, just 10 kms from the front line, about 10 patients are stuck, usually due to expired ID documents needed to cross the conflict zone
, AFP

Authorities have relocated several of the worst-hit care homes but most are forced to continue where they are, despite the fighting, due to demand for places or an unwillingness by residents and staff to move too far from their home towns.

In another troubled war zone location, NPM monitors accompanied by reporters visited a tuberculosis sanatorium where some patients also found themselves unable to leave after completing treatment, because of the conflict.

The facility is located in the Kiev-controlled village of Gostre just 10 kilometres (six miles) from the front line.

Treatment of tuberculosis patients in isolated residential facilities is still common in ex-Soviet countries. Here, most patients stay for two to three months.

Out of some 100 patients currently staying, about 10 have got stuck here long-term, usually because of expired ID documents needed to cross the conflict zone, the chief doctor Valentyna Kozhevnyk tells AFP.

"We don't force anyone to stay here -- we just don't have anywhere to send them," she lamented.

One of these, Valeriy Koltunovsky, 47, comes from the town of Makiivka in the rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, where his wife and two children live.

But his ID documents have expired and he suffers from severe bronchitis that hit him along with the tuberculosis, meaning that he needs to be accompanied by a doctor on the gruelling journey back through numerous checkpoints.

"I want to go back to my home town, but this is hardly going to be possible soon," the lean moustachioed man said sadly, sitting in a small dining room in one of the facility's buildings.

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