Reportage 15:43 07 Feb 2023

Dnipro Center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone: solutions that save lives

In the wake of russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainians flocked to railway stations, fleeing the fighting for safer territory to the west. That came with many challenges, as railway stations became overcrowded and train schedules were disrupted by attacks, at times even stopping as they were exposed to shellings. Still, some Ukrainians even couldn’t get to the railway station to evacuate due to poor health. Rubryka looks at how people with disabilities managed to evacuate, and what solutions were provided to save their lives.

Ukrainian railway stations were overcrowded in the first weeks of the full-scale war. Only women and children were allowed inside the evacuation trains. Thousands of people stood for hours waiting to board wagons to escape the shelling. And inside, the first, second, and even the luggage berths were packed with passengers.

But some Ukrainians did not even have the opportunity to get to the station. These are people with limited mobility and people with disabilities. How were they taken out of danger? Where did they find their shelter?

"I will remember her as a beautiful Ms. Zhenya with 'kidneys' on her finger" 

Olha Vladymyrova, a volunteer for the organization Vostok SOS, which provides comprehensive assistance to conflict-affected persons and IDPs, promoting democratic transformation and human rights values in Ukraine, enters the evacuation car. Only one elderly woman remains on the berth — Yevhenia, or Ms. Zhenya. Olha sits down next to the elderly woman, so that she is not alone. She is wearing dark pants, a warm sweater, and two scarves on her head with a bulky knot under the chin that somehow appears bigger than her head. Her only valuable is a gold ring on her hand, ornamented with precious stones.

евакуація у Дніпро

The woman has forgotten the name of the gem and refers to it as "kidney," meaning nephrite, or jade. In gratitude, she offers to give the ring to the volunteer, but, of course, Olha refuses.

літні переселенці

In October 2022, Olha Vladimirova wrote a post on Facebook about Ms. Zhenya's evacuation. The lady with a gold ring on her hand has remained in her memory ever since.

"I call them all pani," says Olha. In Poland, Lithuania, pre-revolutionary Ukraine, and Belarus, pani was a polite form of address to the female members of the privileged strata of society. Now it is a common form of address for women,  mostly in western Ukraine. "Some say they are not pani; as the word is not of Ukrainian origin."

евакуйовані літні люди

Olha says she will never forget how she again met Ms. Zhenya in the ward of the Dnipro Center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone. Ms. Zhenya was sitting on the bed by the wall, on clean linen, wearing a white scarf. Olha took the woman's hands and hugged her as she was crying. 

Yvhenia, her sister Valentyna, and her husband Anatolii, have been living in the Center since October. The family was evacuated from Bakhmut. Ten years ago, Yevhenia suffered a stroke and was left alone after her daughter, son, and husband passed away. Yevhenia was later taken in by her sister and her husband.

Dnipro, IDPs

Yevhenia's sister Valentyna and her husband, Anatolii.

They don't speak much about life under shelling in Bakhmut. They had no water or electricity for weeks. The military helped with the evacuation, took the family to the gathering place, and volunteers took them from there. Then was the evacuation train to relative safety Dnipro.

"On the train, I realized that there was soot on my face. After that darkness, it was the first time I looked at myself," says Valentyna.

Now the elderly have a clean and warm room for three. Ms. Zhenya takes out a package from the bag with two dozen candies in it. She hands them in gratitude to Olya and us journalists.

Center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone

Ms. Zhenya celebrated her 86th birthday at the center with candies

elderly center in Dnipro

Ms. Zhenya and the volunteer

An inseparable couple and a boy who loves prayers

The center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone has wards with residents from different towns and villages. Volodya, 27, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Volunteers brought him to Dnipro from Bilytske, in the Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine.

центр для людей з інвалідністю

Before the war, Volodya would spend an average day going between the market and the church in Bilytske. Now, he still listens to prayer service the church broadcasts on the internet. He speaks little about his relatives, only mentioning his grandfather, but recalls vividly how he almost lost his hearing during the shelling of Bilytske. 

The village council took care of Volodya, and arranged for his evacuation. But Volodya always rushes home. He recalls fondly how he could visit the local market there, but not here – answering in short phrases, before turning his attention toward his favorite church prayers on his phone.

The sound of the prayers echoes down the corridor, where 71-year-old Volodymyr Bezkorovainyi sits on a couch all alone. His beloved, Taya, is in Hanover. They had been together for half a century, living in Bakhmut with their two sons until 2016, when Taya suffered a stroke. She couldn not leave the house for six years, and taking care of her fell entirely on her husband's shoulders. Things got worse when recently, when she broke her hip joint while moving around the house with a walker. Living with severe pain, Taya could only lie down and sit.

Volodymyr also has his own health problems. Doctors told him that his hip joint should be round, but his had became square. His vision is also far from perfect, and that he needs to have surgery on his eyes. Remaining in Bakhmut despite their ailments and heavy fighting, Volodymyr and Taya were unable to evacuate until November 2022.

Volodymyr, center for the elderly

Volodymyr is waiting to be reunited with his wife, who is currently in Germany.

Volodymyr recounts how difficult it was to take care of his wife. It was when the  water and electricity cut out that the couple finally decided it was time to leave. The volunteers brought family to Dnipro, but Volodymyr and Taya only stayed there together for just over a month, when Taya was taken to Hanover, Germany, to undergo surgery and recovery in a specialized care center but their communication is limited, as both Volodymyr and Taya don't have smartphones, only outdated phones without internet. 

"They miss each other very much," says a worker at the center "But we are doing everything to reunite the family."

Employees cannot place Volodymyr in the same institution where his wife is now because he is not bedridden. They are looking for shelter for the man as close as possible to Taya. The center workers say this is difficult but possible. Therefore, they believe that Volodymyr and Taya will be together soon.

Displaced, but still helping others 

Elderly people and people with disabilities who were evacuated to Dnipro are cared for by people who have themselves been displaced by the war. Danylo, a 19 year old orderly from Kramatorsk, is studying programming while working at the center. He usually works a full day shift, and has three days off after. But when there is an influx of people, his working hours can be even longer.

taking care of elderly in Dnipro

Danylo, an orderly from Kramatorsk, serves soup to residents at the center.

Danylo says he will remain at the center as long as he is needed. Unlike Danylo, who deliberately sought a job in the center, Serhii, who is from Sievierodonetsk, became an orderly by accident.

Serhii had been been caring for his wife, Olena, who is fighting multiple sclerosis when the family left their hometown in April 2022. At first, they intended to go to Dnipro, but had to wait in Mahdalynivka, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, for a month before a spot opened for them in the Center.

Dnipro, shelter for IDPs

Serhii from Sievierodonetsk stayed to work in the center.

Serhii had planned to continue on to the western regions of Ukraine, but decided to stay when he was offered a job at the center.

An electrician by trade, Serhii would like to put his skills to use repairing machine tools, but, already in his late 50s, feels that employers prefer younger prospects.

How does the center work?

More than 1,700 people have already passed through the center. Some only stayed for a night before moving onward, while others have stayed long-term. Either way, they are offered medical and psychological assistance, clothes, and hygiene products, before making arrangements to travel elsewhere.

On the evening of February 23rd, 2022, Olha Volkova was preparing to open the Center for Social Adaptation for People with Disabilities. But after seeing the evacuation queues at Ukrainian train stations, she realized that people with limited mobility were not being tended to, and needed rescue and shelter as well.

Olha Volkova

Olha Volkova sits in her office.

The first evacuation train arrived in Dnipro at the beginning of March 2022. Volkova and her colleague wrote letters to the military administration to allocate additional carriages for people with disabilities and the elderly, compiled lists of those who would leave, and followed up with them. The car was in a separate place on a railway station; boarding took place at the platform level.

"The most painful thing was when they confirmed to me that they would leave by train and didn't show up for it. The crowds of people storm the station, and my car, which I fought for, is driving half empty", says Olha Volkova, head of the board of the Center for Social Adaptation of Persons with Disabilities Okean of good.

The Center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone, opened in a former hospital building a month after russia launched its invasion, and managed to relocate 400 people in that time.

Center for people with disabilities and elderly people evacuated from the war zone

Resident undergoes rehabilitation in the center.

The first families came from Mariupol and Avdiivka. Many people were in a desperate state, many arriving starving."One older man saw the crackers on the table. We just couldn't take the bowl away from him. He didn't start eating soup until he had eaten everything," recalls Volkova.


Twelve months into russia's invasion of Ukraine, civilians continue to flee fighting as the front line expands, making cities like Bakhmut, Soledar, Volnovakha, Avdiiivka, and Kreminna unliveable. As of February 2023, evacuation trains continue to run from the most dangerous areas of the front, so that remaining residents can evacuate – but the center continues to accept displaced people on a daily basis. If you would like to support the center's continued efforts, you can donate using the bank details below.

Bank details to support the Center:


UA193054820000026003300639516 в АТ «ОЩАДБАНК»

МФО 305482





Acc. 4008865941/01






Acc. 4008865941/00




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