Some Older Ukrainians with Dementia Are Experiencing Russia's War Anew Every Day

"She’s been in this never-ending loop for 41 days straight," one woman wrote of her grandma. "Grandpa’s keeping the keys in a safe place"

Ukraine War
The Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo: ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty

As the invasion of Ukraine by Russia grinds on, some of the oldest residents of the war-torn country must grapple with a challenge beyond survival: waking up to again discover, in the fog of dementia, that they have been invaded.

Speaking to The New York Times in a story published Wednesday, Olga Boichak described how her grandmother, who has dementia, begins each day similarly: turning on the TV to see the news of war — then packing to evacuate.

Boichak, a sociologist, is based in Australia but speaks with her grandparents each day. "She's going through the daily trauma of rediscovering that war has begun, and keeps trying to evacuate," she told the Times.

Boichak wrote about the situation on Twitter, sharing how her grandmother has been in a "never-ending loop for 41 days straight."

"Grandpa's keeping the keys in a safe place," she wrote.

Another woman, Liza Vovchenko, told the Times how her 82-year-old grandmother kept attempting to take her daily walks to the market for weeks after the war broke out — despite the streets being unsafe and the market being long-closed.

"Her normal routine was impacted, and people like her really need routine in their lives," Vovchenko, who lives in Paris, said of her grandmother in a Russian-occupied town in Southern Ukraine.

For many aging members of the Ukrainian population, the invasion by Russia recalls distant memories of World War II.

An estimated 10,000 Holocaust survivors were living in Ukraine prior to the invasion, with ABC News reporting last month that some of them had been evacuated to other countries by humanitarian groups.

Others, however, have not managed to flee: 96-year-old Boris Romantschenko, who lived through four Nazi concentration camps, was killed last month when Russians shelled his apartment building in the city of Kharkiv, according to the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but thousands of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

Mariupol, Ukraine theater bombed
Mariupol, Ukraine, in the wake of an attack during the Russian invasion. EyePress News/Shutterstock

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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