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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs