Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Ukrainian pension policies impose "hardships" on pensioners with limited mobility who live in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Pensioners with limited mobility due to illness, disability, or advancing age who live in these areas face "overwhelming difficulty accessing their pensions or do not get them at all," the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on January 24.
More than 450,000 of the 1.2 million pensioners living there do not receive their pensions, according to Ukraine's ombudswoman.
Since November 2014, Kyiv has required people living in the separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to register as displaced persons and to cross the contact line to government-controlled areas to receive their pensions.
"These policies are discriminatory, violate property rights, and simply cut off those who are physically unable to cross the line of contact from their pensions altogether," said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at HRW.
The group urged Ukrainian lawmakers to approve a pending draft law that would delink pension eligibility from displaced person status and make it easier to pay pension arrears to those who have been denied pension payments or have been unable to access them.
But HRW said the bill would not address other difficulties that pensioners unable to travel face in accessing their pensions.
As an example, the watchdog cited the rule according to which pensioners from separatist-controlled areas have to appear in person every three months for an identity verification procedure at the only state bank where pensions are paid. Unlike people living elsewhere in Ukraine, they may not appoint an authorized representative to collect their pensions.
To address that, the government should introduce a remote identity verification procedure and access to online notary services, according to HRW.
"Older people in areas not controlled by the government who have limited mobility should be treated the same as other Ukrainian citizens," Gorbunova said. “It is heartbreaking to imagine that some of them live in acute poverty but are not getting the pensions to which they are legally entitled.”