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Artist's Statement: Paula Bronstein Examines the Vulnerable Elderly of Ukraine

By David Schonauer   Tuesday July 23, 2019


War’s victims come in all shapes, all ages.

As we noted in a 2016 profile, photojournalist Paula Bronstein covered the war in Afghanistan almost from its beginning in 2001. “As the years stretched on and casualties and costs mounted, she kept returning to Afghanistan, both as a Getty staffer and, since 2013, as a freelancer, to work on stories that examined the war’s effects on the people of the country,” we noted.

Her work was collected in the book Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear, which documented both tranquil moments of everyday life in the country over more than decade of war, along with shocking views of the dead and injured, the stricken and the desperate. After so much fighting, she told us, “The world would rather forget Afghanistan.” Her pictures, we noted, would not allow that.

Bronstein’s newest project, made possible with a grant funding from Getty Images, the Pulitzer Center and the Yunghi Kim grant, looks at a different conflict: Beginning in 2018, she has made three trips to Ukraine, which has been locked in a war with Russia that has now dragged on for five years and claimed 13,000 lives. Like her work in Afghanistan, the new project, titled “Elderly Lives Frozen By Conflict: Ukraine’a War,” focuses on what Bronstein calls the “silent victims” of war — a population, she writes in her artist’s statement, that is “impoverished, and abandoned to survive in dilapidated homes.”

The project was made possible with grant funding from Getty Images, the Pulitzer Center, and the Yunghi Kim grant. We spotlight it today.

“Elderly Lives Frozen By Conflict: Ukraine’a War”
By Paula Brontstein


Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, has many challenges currently facing him along with the upcoming parliamentary elections. He claims that his top priority is the prolonged war against Russian separatists in the east; his hope is to reach a cease-fire in a conflict that has a staggering death toll of 13,000 lives and has dragged on for over five years. Meanwhile vulnerable individuals are still victims of this conflict, especially the elderly.

I examine under-reported human, economic and political issues to expose silent victims of conflict in a variety of war torn countries. This series focuses on the vulnerable, fragile, elderly population in Ukraine — frozen by conflict, trapped in a war, impoverished, and abandoned to survive in dilapidated homes. Ukraine has the world’s highest proportion of elderly affected by war. The ongoing conflict has had a staggering human toll on the elderly. A third of the country’s 3.4 million people that depend on humanitarian assistance are over 60 years old. In 2014, many young people left when violence broke out, while the elderly stayed behind just barely surviving.

Ukraine’s elderly are trapped in a war zone, listening to the occasional bursts of shelling near the line of contact separating the Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed rebel forces. For pensioners who have exhausted their resources, economic difficulties add to the stress of daily life. Recent government measures led to hundreds of thousands of elderly losing their pensions — their only financial security.

Caught in this bureaucratic nightmare, the elderly are forced to travel across eastern Ukraine, waiting in long lines to collect their pensions. Often reluctant to leave their homes and the last to flee from danger, the elderly are left abandoned without resources of family care. In pursuit of destroyed documents, and to collect their pension, they are forced to travel across the conflict-torn borders of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
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Go here to see more of Paula Bronstein's work. Go here to see a video she has produced about the elderly in Ukraine.

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