STANYTSIA LUHANSKA Ukraine — Antonina and Leonid know where to find their state pension money: an office just about a mile down the road.
The problem is it is on the other side of the front lines of eastern Ukraine’s nearly five-year-old war.
The couple’s home falls within the breakaway territories controlled by rebels loyal to Moscow. The Ukrainian bureaucrats handling pensions and other affairs are across the line in areas run by Kiev’s pro-Western government.
So Antonina and Leonid join thousands of elderly Ukranian citizens in the separatist regions to negotiate the no man’s land of checkpoints and adjacent mine fields to pocket their pensions, which average around $90 a month.
Ukraine’s war, meanwhile, grinds on with no end in sight and remains one of the major tension points between Russia and the West. The death toll stands at more than 10,000 people, with the two sides still shelling each other and trading sniper fire daily.
For ordinary Ukrainian citizens caught in the war zone, the conflict is an unending litany of complications, disruptions and danger.
“She’s dead,” said Antonina, pointing to a woman, who looked to be in her 80s, lying motionless on a stretcher outside the Ukraine government office in Stanytsia Luhanska, about 530 miles east of Kiev and 15 miles from the Russian border. Antonina, her husband Leonid and others gave only their first name for fear of drawing the attention of authorities in the pro-Moscow regions.
The woman, however, was not dead. First aid workers took her into a nearby prefab building and assured the crowd they would look after her. Everyone then went back to the official business at hand.
That includes getting their pensions and making plans to head back across the lines to homes in the Luhansk People’s Republic — one of the two self-declared territories under control of Moscow-backed separatists and by all appearances partly occupied by Russian troops.
“We’re always together,” said Antonina, 69. “I’m next to him all the time, so that he gets his pills,” she said, pointing to small, wheeled knapsack next to her, which contained all their necessities for their trip.
“The situation is horrible,” said Leonid, 75, making a face.
As Ukrainian passport holders, these elders are eligible for social benefits. But to receive them, they must declare themselves as “internally displaced persons.”
That requires registering at an address on the Kiev-controlled side. This is often a government office or a shell address.