Number of displaced inside Ukraine more than doubles since early August to 260,000

News Stories, 2 September 2014

© UNHCR/I.Zimova
A Ukrainian family with their belongings after arriving at Kyiv by train. They had fled the violence in eastern Ukraine.

GENEVA, September 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that fighting in eastern Ukraine, in particular around Donetsk, Luhansk and neighbouring towns, is driving more people from their homes and increasing the need for humanitarian aid.

Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR's Europe Bureau, told journalists in Geneva that the number of people displaced inside Ukraine had more than doubled in the past four weeks. UNHCR estimates that 260,000 people were displaced as of Monday, compared to 117,000 in the first week of August.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said the steep rise in the number of displaced over the past three weeks was a deep concern. "If this crisis is not quickly stopped, it will have not only devastating humanitarian consequences but it also has the potential to destabilize the whole region. After the lessons of the Balkans, it is hard to believe a conflict of these proportions could unfold in the European continent," he said.

Most of the displaced 94 per cent are from eastern Ukraine and are remaining in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions. UNHCR believes the actual number of people displaced is higher as many are staying with families and friends and choose not to register with the authorities.

"Because of insecurity, humanitarian actors have not been able to assess the situation of people displaced in the Luhansk region," Cochetel said, adding that UNHCR planned to conduct a fact-finding mission later this week. The Ukrainian authorities say that 2.2 million people currently remain in conflict areas.

The number of those using three corridors set-up by the Ukrainian authorities to flee conflict areas is decreasing, mainly due to recent incidents when civilians have lost their lives in attacks. Reportedly 6,000 people have left through these corridors since the end of July.

In the Donetsk region since last Tuesday, local authorities reported that some 10,000 people left the port town of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia and Berdiansk and other locations, following military activities of the anti-government forces.

UNHCR's Cochetel said shelling had left people in conflict areas with limited access to food, water and other basic necessities. In Donetsk, Makiivka and Gorlovka, the regional authorities estimate there are 20,000 people with disabilities and needing help.

In Luhansk, residents have been without proper supplies of food and water, and dealing with electricity shortages and communications problems for a month. Buildings and roads are severely damaged, impeding efforts to provide humanitarian aid.

In Yasynuvata, some 150 people have reportedly found shelter in basements without electricity. Many of them are older people. Newly displaced people are arriving with limited resources and are more dependent on aid.

After the Ukrainian government re-established control over various towns in the northern part of Donetsk region in early July, many internally displaced people quickly returned. For instance, some 20,000 displaced people returned to the town of Slovyansk from other areas of the Donetsk region.

Meanwhile the number of Ukrainians seeking refugee status or asylum in the Russian Federation increased by almost 66,000 during August. According to the Federal Migration Service, more than 121,000 Ukrainians have applied for refugee status or temporary asylum since January 1.

Since late July, the quotas for temporary asylum set for several regions including Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Rostov and Chechnya have been filled, meaning that Ukrainian nationals need to seek asylum in other regions. In addition, 138,825 Ukrainians have applied for other forms of legal stay such as temporary/permanent residence permits and under the programme of "resettlement of compatriots."

A larger number of Ukrainians are arriving in Russia under the visa-free regime. The Russian authorities say around 814,000 Ukrainians have entered Russia since the start of the year. This figure includes people who have applied for refugee/temporary asylum and other residence options.

Most Ukrainians arriving in Russia stay with relatives, friends or find private accommodation with a host family or rent their own apartments. The authorities have adopted regulations to facilitate the temporary stay of Ukrainians.

UNHCR continues to support local government and civic society, as well as deliver assistance directly to the most vulnerable. To date, the UN refugee agency has distributed more than 150 tonnes of humanitarian assistance to the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, hosting over 100,000 displaced people. UNHCR also has coordinated distribution of food provided by different foundations.

A total of 4,106 Ukrainians requested asylum in the European Union between January and July, compared to 903 applications in the whole 2013. Most Ukrainian applications for asylum were in Poland (1,082), Germany (556) and Sweden (500). In addition, 380 Ukrainians have sought asylum in Belarus.

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Displacement, Disability and Uncertainty in Ukraine

To date, around 275,500 people have been displaced by fighting in Ukraine. They include some who live with disability, including Viktoria, aged 41, and her husband, Aleksandr, 40, who both have cerebral palsy. Life is difficult enough under normal circumstances for the couple, who also have two sons; 20-year-old Dima, and Ivan aged 19 months. Now it has become a real struggle.

At the end of July, shelling in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk forced Viktoria and Aleksandr to flee to the neighbouring Kharkiv region. It wasn't long before Viktoria's medication ran out. In a desperate bid to help, Aleksandr called the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, which found them transportation and accommodation in Kharkiv.

From there, they were taken to the Promotei Summer Camp, located near the town of Kupiansk. The forest, fresh air and a lake near the camp offered a perfect setting to spend the summer. But, like 120 other internally displaced people (IDP) living there, all Viktoria and Aleksandr could think about was home. They had hoped to return by the Autumn. But it soon came and went.

Today, it is still not safe to go back to Donetsk. Moreover, the camp has not been prepared for the coming winter and the administration has asked people to leave by October 15. Neither Viktoria nor Aleksandr know where they and their young son can go next. The following photographs of the couple and their youngest child were taken by Emine Ziyatdinova.

Displacement, Disability and Uncertainty in Ukraine

Ukraine: Sorting through the Wreckage

Conflict has changed the city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. "We used to have such a beautiful, calm, tidy city," says Angelina, a social worker. Today, it is full of destroyed homes and infrastructure, a casualty of the fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces. More than half of the inhabitants - some 70,000 people - fled the city during the combat earlier this year. In recent weeks, with the city back under government control, some 15,000 have returned. But they face many challenges. Maria, aged 80, returned to a damaged home and sleeps in the kitchen with her family. She worries about getting her pension. The UN refugee agency has transported several tons of hygiene items and kitchen equipment to the city for distribution to those who lost their homes. Photojournalist Iva Zimova recently accompanied UNHCR staff as they visited more than 100 families to give put aid.

Ukraine: Sorting through the Wreckage

Ukraine: A Summer Camp RefugePlay video

Ukraine: A Summer Camp Refuge

Normally, the Promotei camp hosts holidaymakers during Summer. But this year, it provided shelter for more than 100 Ukrainians forced by fighting to flee their homes in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine: Baby Born In ConflictPlay video

Ukraine: Baby Born In Conflict

Sasha was born just as the fighting started in Ukraine. He and his mother struggled to survive.
Ukraine: Displacement TraumaPlay video

Ukraine: Displacement Trauma

Across Eastern Ukraine, thousands face internal exile, lost homes and jobs and a very uncertain future.