Training to use computers to keep in touch with family members and relatives.

Active Aging Club: Providing personal growth opportunities for Donbas seniors in the armed conflict

The small rural post office in Trokhizbenka village, Luhansk region, Ukraine was abandoned for years until local seniors repaired it. It now houses Active Aging Club whose members get together a few times a week and learn how to send emails, watch films and crochet together with their grandchildren. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team visited the Club to meet its members.
Article 17 November 2021 Ukraine

Trokhizbenka village is situated in the Luhansk region, on the line of contact of the Ukrainian conflict. It is more peaceful in Trokhizbenka now than it was during the first years of the conflict, but shelling still occurs:

"It's quiet here now," says Tetiana, a member of Active Aging Club.
"Quiet, but tense. Fear is here, fear never fades away," her fellow villager Maria adds.

Before the conflict, a bus service operated between the village and a neighbouring town, which offered studying, employment and high-quality recreation opportunities for all.

"Before this conflict, we all had jobs. We continued working past pension age," Tetiana reminisces. "And now we are all at home, there is nothing left. There is neither a mobile network, nor grocery shops, nothing else around..."

The physical isolation of the village and its proximity to the line of contact, encouraged Trokhizbenka residents to run activities together, which eventually became known as Active Aging Club. The senior residents of Trokhizbenka saw an opportunity in the abandoned small rural post office, which they repaired for the purposes of establishing the Club. Tetiana and Maria are amongst fifty permanent members of the Club.

Meet the members of the Club

Motivation to remain active and even take on learning and development opportunities contributed to the launch of the Club. After the local authorities permitted the use of a former post office as the premises for the Club, the ICRC provided construction materials, the members completed all repairs themselves.

Club members repairing the premises. Photo courtesy of URCS

Since then, Club members have been receiving training sessions and workshops in first aid, mine safety and psychosocial support, and also sewing, knitting, bakery and drawing. Most of the handmade items from the Club are donated to bed-ridden individuals via a home-visiting nurse care program run by the Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS). Other handmade items like bed linen are gifted to locals on special occasions such as birthdays and other celebrations.

"Our approach is to change the status of seniors from passive beneficiaries of aid to active members hosting events in their village. Friendly spaces should be formed where seniors could take the initiative," says Zoia Pohorila, a representative of the URCS. URCS Volunteers deliver training sessions for the Club members.

Essential items handmade at the Club are donated to the most vulnerable and bed-ridden supported by the home-visiting nurses. Photo courtesy of URCS

The volunteers teach Trokhizbenka seniors to use smartphones and computers. Digital skills are essential as many Donbas families are separated by the line of contact. Messaging apps are often the only way for grandmothers and grandfathers to contact their children and grandchildren. The newly acquired digital skills help those seeking some employment opportunities.

"Such activities make the life of Trokhizbenka residents more varied and positive, and people themselves more self-assured and capable. And that is the first step on the way towards the main goal of Active Aging Club in eastern Ukraine: for socially active people in communities along the line of contact personally to address the issues they face as a result of the armed conflict," explains Iryna Alekseeva, the coordinator of the Access to Education department of the ICRC.

Exercising at the Club. Photo courtesy of URCS

The ICRC provided financial support to repair the premises and to purchase all the necessary furniture and equipment such as computers, sewing machines, heaters, sports items, arts and crafts materials.

The Club is a multifunctional space available for all local villagers. Children perform pantomimes and plays and get involved in organizing events for Christmas and Easter together with adults. Such events are attended by the entire village.

In isolated villages like Trokhizbenka, where the security situation is volatile, local authorities find it extremely difficult to support such initiatives. The ICRC is one of the few organizations which support various learning and development opportunities for individuals living near the line of contact, while ensuring sustainability and long-term development.

Active Aging Clubs have been launched in three isolated villages which continue to be affected by the armed conflict, namely Triokhizbenka, Krakivka and Spivakivka in Luhansk and Donetsk regions with over 100 members.