Ukraine: UNHCR concerned by rise in attacks on asylum seekers, refugees

Briefing Notes, 8 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 June 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are extremely concerned at what seems to be an increasing trend in the number and seriousness of racist attacks against asylum seekers, refugees and other foreigners in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of incidents of police violence against people seeking protection in Ukraine have been reported.

In the latest incident, an Iraqi asylum seeker who was seeking protection in Ukraine after fleeing his war-torn homeland was killed in Kyiv on 3 June. The motives for this act are not yet known, and a police investigation is currently under way. But the number of attacks and harassment against foreigners in Ukraine in the last few months make it necessary to investigate the motives of this murder carefully, including racist motivations. UNHCR has requested that the Government of Ukraine keep the office informed of the outcome of the investigation.

UNHCR first voiced concerns over what appeared as xenophobic acts in Ukraine on 13 July 2001, after a refugee from Rwanda was beaten to death outside his home in Vinnitsa. In March 2005, a former refugee of Iraqi origin, employed by a UNHCR partner organization, was severely beaten in Kyiv by a gang of youngsters. Since then, UNHCR's office in Kyiv has been receiving on a regular basis, first-hand reports of racially motivated incidents, unprovoked attacks, beatings, verbal insults and other acts of xenophobia against refugees and asylum seekers in different regions of Ukraine.

There are also regular media reports of attacks and harassment of foreigners in Kyiv, including members of the diplomatic community.

UNHCR acknowledges the important steps taken by the Ukrainian authorities to address this problem, including high-profile public statements by the Minister of the Interior. UNHCR also appreciates the openness of the authorities in Kyiv to discuss these problems. UNHCR encourages the Ukrainian authorities to increase their efforts to put an end to these attacks and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, as a matter of urgency.

UNHCR is working together with other UN agencies, the diplomatic community and human rights organizations in Ukraine to counteract xenophobia and racism. As part of this effort, a number of advocacy activities designed to promote tolerance have been organized and free legal aid to victims of xenophobia and racial violence is provided.




UNHCR country pages

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: Helping Hands Play video

Ukraine: Helping Hands

Ukrainian individuals and organizations, like Everybody Can Help, have been helping people displaced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine with clothing, food and other aid items. The volunteers at Everybody Can Help have helped more than 25,000 people.
Ukraine: Destruction in DonetskPlay video

Ukraine: Destruction in Donetsk

Alexander Kovalenko is one of the last people still living on his street in Donetsk, where the conflict in eastern Ukraine has left a trail of destruction. His home was struck by six shells and the roof was blown off. Now Alexander lives amid the rubble, in a little room he has fixed up, waiting for peace to return.
Ukraine: Returning and RebuildingPlay video

Ukraine: Returning and Rebuilding

The small town of Nikishino stood on the frontline of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Two weeks into the ceasefire, 200 people have returned there determined to rebuild.