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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More