Every morning, Olga Boichak’s grandmother wakes up at her home in western Ukraine, turns on the television and finds again that her country is at war.
Panicked and reminiscing on childhood memories of World War II bombings, she begins to pack her bags to evacuate, her granddaughter said. Her husband of six decades hides the house keys and assures her that everything will be fine and that their home is the safest place for them.
Before long, war, fear and comfort will dissipate in the fog of madness – like all new memories of the past few years. Until the next morning, or the next air raid siren, when the reality of the invasion that has subsumed Ukraine for over 50 days will find her again.
“She’s going through the daily trauma of rediscovering that the war started and still trying to evacuate,” said Dr Boichak, who is based in Sydney and speaks to her grandparents and her aunt, a health worker. health who takes care of them, every week. video chat. She declined to give the names of her grandparents or their exact location in relatively safe western Ukraine, out of concern for their safety.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” she said.
In almost two months of war, many young and able-bodied Ukrainians have left the country or taken up arms. Many elderly, infirm or disabled people remained behind, unable to make the journey or unwilling to leave the environment provided for their needs.
Dementia in particular is a “hidden” disability that can exclude patients from humanitarian aid or responder protection, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, an umbrella organization for groups around the world. Even before the Russian invasion in February, the war in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine had disproportionately affected older Ukrainians.
For Ms. Boichak’s grandparents, who are in their late 80s, childhood memories of being forced to flee amid Soviet bombing have made them all the more attached to their home, and her grand -father is determined to stay despite pleas from their children and grandchildren, she said. Her grandfather, a retired doctor, was very keen on spending his last years in the house they spent decades rebuilding and where her grandmother, a retired architect, cared for a garden for years growing tomatoes, zucchini and carrots, Dr. Boichak said.
On the 41st day of war, Dr. Boichak, a sociologist and lecturer who has studied the role of social media in shaping narratives about war and military violence, beginning with Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, posted the story of his grandparents on Twitter. She described how her grandmother had been caught in an “endless loop”.
To his surprise, his tweet seemed to resonate around the world; over 44,000 people have liked the post.
My grandmother in Ukraine has dementia. Every morning she wakes up, turns on the television and finds that the war has started. Mortified, she packs her bag and tries to evacuate the house. She’s been in this endless loop for 41 days straight. Grandpa keeps the keys in a safe place💔
— Olga Boichak 🇺🇦 (@olgarithmic) April 5, 2022
Among those moved by their story was Liza Vovchenko, who immediately thought of her own grandmother in a Russian-occupied town in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
For weeks after Russian soldiers took control, her 82-year-old grandmother, Rita, continued to try to take her daily walks to the downtown market, even though the streets were no longer safe. The market had long ceased to function as food became scarce and people ran out of money.
Her grandmother, a retired teacher who has shown increasing signs of dementia over the past three years, continues to forget about the war and gets angry at the grandson she lives with for not leaving her. out of the house, Ms. Vovchenko said.
“Her normal routine has been affected, and people like her really need routine in their lives,” said Ms Vovchenko, who lives in Paris and speaks on the phone with her grandmother and the cousin who lives with her. Without her daily walks and conversations with friends and neighbors she sees along the way, and without her medication, her grandmother’s condition worsened, she said.
The family tried to keep him away from television, on which all Ukrainian programming was replaced by a stream of Russian propaganda. She’s run out of Sudoku pages that she likes to do.
What was particularly painful for the family was having to keep the kitchen, which, like many Soviet-era homes, is in a separate building, locked. Her grandmother, a skilled cook who loves to bake pies with cherries, apples and plums from her garden, repeatedly tried to prepare elaborate meals, not realizing that the family had to ration food supplies. falling.
Last week, the family finally evacuated their grandmother from the village where she was born in 1940, as fighting intensified along the eastern front, according to Ms Vovchenko.
Among her friends and contacts across Ukraine, stories abound of disabled or weak elderly parents urging young people to leave them behind and get to safety, she said.
“For the young ones who are able to escape, the older ones would push you to run away,” she said. They say, “I’m going to die here because this is my land. I want to make sure you leave and can come back and rebuild this country.