‘We are the one connection’: Postal workers risk their lives to win pensions for elderly in Ukraine
#connection #Postal #workers #risk #lives #win #pensions #elderly #Ukraine Welcome to Alaska Green Light Blog, here is the new story we have for you today:
Seversk, Ukraine CNN —
Every few minutes the ground shakes as explosions echo through the battered streets of Siversk in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Sometimes it’s Ukrainian fire, sometimes the Russians fire back.
An elderly woman in black trousers, heavy shoes, a dirty gray coat and headscarf shuffles up the street. Another explosion sounds. She flinches, her eyes wide open, but she doesn’t miss a step. She joins a group of several dozen, mostly elderly, residents wrapped up against the cold.
The streets are covered in mud and debris thrown up by countless incoming rounds. The few vehicles have to dodge around water-filled craters into which bombs fell. The upper floors of some apartment blocks have been reduced to rubble and hardly a window facing the street is intact. Telephone and electric cables meander across the floor, long dead.
At the edge of the crowd alone is 72-year-old Lubov Bilenko. Her face is flat, emotionless, her dark eyes expressionless—the thousand-mile gaze.
“Of course we were very scared beforehand,” she says quietly. “Now we’re used to it,” she says of the shelling. “We don’t pay any attention to it anymore.”
Bilenko tells CNN that she ventured out of her apartment, where she lives alone, onto the main street to pick up her monthly pension, which was being delivered to the city by a mobile unit operated by Ukrposhta, Ukraine’s postal service. Bilenko’s pension is just under $80 a month. It’s just enough to buy some groceries in one of the few shops that are still open.
Once a month, the small yellow and white Ukrposhta van comes to Siversk.
Anna Fesenko, a blond woman with a quick smile, heads the mobile unit. As she and her colleagues check documents against a list of recipients and distribute cash, Anna elicits a smile and the occasional chuckle from weary townsfolk.
Fesenko says she has been with Ukrposhta for 15 years. Those years of predictable, methodical mail work didn’t prepare her for what she’s doing now.
“I could never have imagined such a nightmare,” she told CNN.
Before heading the mobile unit, Fesenko worked at the post office in Bakhmut, about 22 miles south of Siversk. But by mid-autumn, the fighting around the city became so intense that she and her colleagues there had to evacuate.
She understands that her job is not just to hand out pensions, but to remind the people of Siversk that they have not been forgotten. “I think we’re the only link between them and the rest of the world,” she says.
However, not everyone is ready to even go outside.
“I live a 20-minute walk from here, but my wife is afraid to come here,” says 63-year-old Volodymyr, who declined to give his full name, and puffed on a cigarette before standing in line.
“My wife told me not to spend our pension on cigarettes,” he laughs, taking another long drag.
Olha, 73, made it to the front. Like so many who live in war zones, she has huddled with others in the basement of her apartment building for months. It’s a cramped, uncomfortable existence. Nonetheless, she’s willing to give it a go.
“I was born here,” she says, nodding her head forward for emphasis. “This is my fatherland.”
Then another loud bang. Olha hardly notices. “I’m not going anywhere. What will be will be.”
The operation is overseen by the head of the Siwersk military administration, Oleksi Vorobiov. He is nervous that so many people have gathered outdoors.
Russian troops are just behind a broad valley, occupying hills visible from the pension distribution point. They are about 10 kilometers (six miles) north.
Vorobiov urges people to back off and spread out “for your own safety.” You ignore him.
“We’re trying to choose the right time and place,” Vorobiov says of the pension handover. That means every time the mobile unit comes, it’s a different place and time to avoid being attacked by the Russians.
“But this is war,” he adds. “Today it’s like this” – he nods to the snake – “and tomorrow it can be completely different.”
Around noon we left Siversk. The distribution was only half done.
An hour later, a Russian artillery shell hit the ground just a block away, postal clerk Fesenko told us over the phone.
No one was injured, she said, but she and her colleagues refrained from formalities. They quickly distributed whatever cash they could to those who were still waiting, she said, and left.