News / Europe

    Scope of Ukraine's Refugee Crisis Remains Unclear

    Local residents wait for a bus as they try flee fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk June 10, 2014.
    Local residents wait for a bus as they try flee fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk June 10, 2014.
    Lyudmila Denisenko endured weeks of deadly shootouts between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian insurgents in her home city of Slovyansk, the epicenter of the separatist conflict ravaging eastern Ukraine.
     
    But when a children's hospital was shelled two weeks ago, her patience finally snapped.
     
    She and her family fled for the relative safety of Izyum, a small town 50 kilometers northwest of Slovyansk.
     
    "We came here with nothing," she recently told RFE/RL in Izyum's City Hall, where she was applying for temporary accommodation and basic supplies. "We could no longer stay. The children's hospital was bombed, the train station was bombed, the bus station was bombed. We hitchhiked all the way here."
     
    Like Denisenko, thousands of people have fled eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.
     
    Amid the chaos, however, the scope of the refugee crisis remains unclear.
     
    UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, estimates that there are currently more than 17,500 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine.
     
    About 11,000 of these are former Crimea residents who fled the peninsula after its annexation by Russia in March. The rest are eastern Ukrainians forced out of their homes by the separatist conflict.
     
    "The majority are women and children, about one third are children," says Oldrich Andrysek, the agency's representative for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. "There are relatively few old people, pensioners. They are reluctant to leave their homes even though conditions are very bad."
     
    Rough estimates
     
    The flow of refugees appears to have intensified since the government launched what it calls an "antiterrorist operation" to root out separatists from eastern Ukraine in mid-April.
     
    Their real number is probably much higher than UNHCR's estimates, which don't include people who turned to nongovernmental groups for help or are waiting out the conflict with relatives.
     
    "Our figure is collated from local authorities after they've been approached for some kind of assistance, it's a very incomplete figure because there is no central register of displaced persons," says Andrysek. "It's a rough estimate. The figure could be double, but it's very hard to confirm."
     
    In addition to IDPs, some of those displaced by the turmoil in Ukraine have sought refuge abroad.
     
    According to UNHCR, more than 440 Ukrainian citizens have applied for asylum in Poland since the beginning of the year. As of June 13, it says, 22 have sought asylum in Belarus and another 19 in Moldova.
     
    Many families are also believed to have fled to neighboring Russia, although the country's souring relations with Ukraine and the West are making it difficult for international agencies like UNHCR to gauge their numbers.
     
    The information war between Moscow and Kyiv has raised yet more uncertainty about the number and whereabouts of Ukrainian refugees in Russia.
     
    State-run television channels in Russia have been broadcasting reports of refugee camps populated by Ukrainian families, and Russia now says it is facing a humanitarian crisis on its border – a claim vehemently rejected by Ukrainian authorities.
     
    A Reuters video showing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chief Lamberto Zannier visiting a refugee camp in the Rostov region this week lent some credence to Russia's claims. In the footage, angry evacuees from Slovyansk are seen shouting at Zannier, demanding answers on the Ukrainian government's use of force in their city.

    The conflicting figures coming out of Russia, however, have raised eyebrows.
     
    Russian children's ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said earlier this month that more than 8,300 Ukrainians had fled to Russia's southern Rostov region in just one day.
     
    "An additional 151 children arrived at the refugee camp that we inspected yesterday," he wrote on his Instagram account, illustrating his statement with a drawing showing a haggard-looking child standing next to the body of her mother against the backdrop of a burning village.
     
    Rostov authorities were quick to reject this figure.
     
    "Eight thousand three hundred Ukrainians crossed the border over the past 24 hours, but this doesn't mean that all of them are refugees," said Aleksandr Titov, a spokesman for Rostov regional governor Vadim Artyomov. "These people could be visiting their relatives; they could have come for a vacation or for other purposes in other regions of Russia."
     
    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has since put the number of refugees at just over 2,500, saying the country stood ready to take in another 10,000.
     
    The highest figure so far has come from Denis Pushilin, the parliament speaker of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, who claimed on June 12 that as many as 15,000 eastern Ukrainians had already fled to Russia.
     
    'People are frightened'
     
    Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in turn, has put the figure at 4,000 and accused Kyiv of ignoring the refugee crisis.
     
    "People are frightened, scared," he told a government meeting on June 5. "At the same time, the Ukrainian government fails to notice a humanitarian problem, says there are no refugees. It's lies and it's sad to hear it."
     
    UNHCR's Andrysek describes the Ukrainian government's reaction to the refugee crisis so far as "very unsystematic."
     
    "One of the problems in Ukraine is that there has been a lot of upheaval in the past few months," he adds. "The government has been faced by many concurrent priorities."
     
    While authorities in Kyiv continue to deny that eastern Ukrainians are massively fleeing to Russia, they are coming around to the urgency of tackling the mounting flow of IDPs.
     
    On June 10, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors so civilians can flee areas worst hit by the conflict.
     
    One day later, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk instructed his government to create a nationwide database of refugees to facilitate relief efforts.
     
    "Everything we've done so far is resettle people for one, two, or three months, mostly refugees from Crimea," he said. "In view of the current situation, it's clear that this issue cannot be solved in the short term. We need to adopt a long-term strategy.

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, the history of take-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora