In Ukraine, the pension does not provide much money, so many of the elderly create some type of work that may help with their income. Some sell flowers that they grow at home; others sell sunflower seeds and nuts. Many will collect the things in their home that they no long use and try to sell them. They will choose a well travelled path, put a sheet down on the ground, and lay out their goods to sell.
I have been living in the same apartment here in Illichevsk, Ukraine for six years. Some people in my building have died, other have sold their apartment and moved away. There are a number of older women that I see as I go in and out of my building who are pleasant in conversation with me. Not a lot of words, but we have communication.
There is one woman on a pension who lives on the fifth floor that I interact with from time to time. It is difficult to know the ages of people here; many look much older than they are. This particular woman caught my attention one day when she was returning from her work. She had a small hand truck with three nylon bags stacked and strapped to it that she was dragging up the stairs, one backbreaking step at a time. Immediately, I grabbed hold of the bottom of the truck and helped her carry it all of the way to the fifth floor.
Over the years, I have helped her up the steps numerous times. Each time, as I hear her wheezing with every breath that she takes, I realize the reality of the cost of freedom for the people of this country. This woman, like many others, gets up early in the morning, takes her goods to a place in the city, and sits and waits. She may sit in that same spot all day. I have seen her with her item set out and clothes hung from a line between two trees.
I don’t know much about this woman, but I see that she has a life, she has purpose, and she moves forward every day. I have seen her apartment that she shares with another woman, or maybe one of them owns only one room. It is dismal, dark, and very depressing for me to experience, but I wonder what it looks like through her eyes. I wonder how she sees her life. Most of all, I wonder what her life was like prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.