Thursday, February 9, 2012

Interview with Galina Polyakova, Director of "Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini" (Age Concern Ukraine)

Duygu Başaran and Galina Polyakova at GAA office

During the first week of the 50th session of the Commission on Social Development at the UN, I had the chance to interview Galina Polyakova, the Director of "Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini" (Age Concern Ukraine). We talked about the kinds of abuses that she witnesses happenning to older people in her country.
GAA: Can you please introduce yourself?G.P: My name is Galina Polyakova. I am 55 years old and I represent Age Concern in Ukraine.

GAA: What are some of the abuses that you see happening to older people in Ukraine?
Five years ago, Age Concern conducted a survey in Ukraine. Older people stated that age discrimination was the most common abuse. Some 70% of older people said that civil servants (from governmental institutions and bodies) and public transport workers - drivers - abused the elderly the most. When the head of Social Services learned at the conference about this findings, she commented: "See how they (older people) hate us." She believed older people hated civil servants; the survey was a good place to quantify this strong dislike of the bureaucratic system. One third of the respondents complained that their families discriminated against them. Surprisingly, police treat older people really well in Ukraine.

GAA: Why is that?
G.P: The police office is the only agency that hears and registers complaints; there is no other agency besides the police to register discrimination. You know what? I had to translate the word “abuse” into Ukrainian. We did not have a word for abuse. Why? Because people don’t want to talk about it.

GAA: How about nursing homes? Do you hear stories or abuse at old age institutions?
We have nursing homes but there are not enough of them. We also do not have sufficient numbers of home care providers either. We have pensions, but they are minimal. But it is something. What we have worked on in Ukraine was to establish a working group to amend and improve the legal requirements to service provision to older people - it was an initiative of the Ministry of Social Policy Ministry. They invited me as the Age Concern Ukraine Executive Director to become a member of this Working Group.

GAA: Sometimes human rights seem more available to younger persons in society. For example, young people have a right to education, to health care, to other social rights. And, working age persons have access to employment, to credit from banks, etc. Do you feel held back now because of your age? If so, can you explain? If not, why?
In Ukraine the literacy rate is 100 percent. There is no age limit that bars persons from school. You just have to pay the tuition money. I never heard of older Ukrainians getting a bank loan to start a business. Instead, they usually go to local authorities to register as a small business owner. It’s handled more at the local level.

GAA: What do you want to tell the UN to do to protect older persons’ rights?
In my opinion, old people need someone to buy them bread or to take them for a walk. We cannot say that convention is more important than the daily needs or vice versa. They are the two faces of the same coin.

GAA: Thank you very much.

After my interview with Galina, I took her back to the Commission on Social Development meetings at the UN. Galina is now back in Ukraine, working for the well-being of older people in her country.

by Duygu Başaran, GAA Program Coordinator

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