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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs