Ukraine: Humanitarian needs rise as internal displacement tops 117,000 people

Briefing Notes, 5 August 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Vincent Cochetel, Director, Europe Bureau to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate, the UN refugee agency estimates that over 117,000 people are currently displaced inside Ukraine. In the past seven days more than 6,200 people have been forced from their homes. As of 1 August, an estimated 168,000 people had also crossed into Russia so far this year.

The number of people displaced from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions has risen sharply since early June from 2,600 to 102,600 in early August. People from eastern Ukraine now make up 87 per cent of the total displaced population in Ukraine; those from Crimea now number some 15,200 people.

People are fleeing eastern Ukraine with limited belongings and increasing difficulties, including access to banking services. Basic services and infrastructure have been heavily affected by the increased violence, with scarcity of drinking water now becoming increasingly common. Many houses and buildings have been partially or totally destroyed in the areas affected by conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

UNHCR is also seeing a mixed picture of displacement with a significant increase of people fleeing violence around Horlivka, Donetsk and Luhansk as well as a substantial numbers of returns to areas where the Ukrainian government has regained control.

According to local authorities, some 4,000 persons have reportedly returned from Kharkiv region to Slavyansk and Kramatorsk during last seven days. Some 20,000 people have reportedly returned to Slavyansk since 5 July.

Those displaced cite security concerns, including the risk of being caught in crossfire, as the main reason for leaving their homes. Some people also expressed fears of persecution for their political views, ethnicity or forcible recruitment by government or anti-government forces. Some are reporting having experienced or heard of incidents of abduction, extortion and harassment in their neighbourhoods. Other reasons people cited for being forced to flee included damage to their homes, lack of services and damage to basic infrastructure in the region.

UNHCR calls for the establishment by the Ukrainian government of a central registration system of internally displaced people. The current lack of a systematic and uniform system hampers the coordination and implementation of relief efforts. This is also important as the Ukrainian authorities make their preparations for winter. Most of the current shelters in use are not suitable for the cold winter months.

UNHCR continues to support government and civic society in their response to the displacement, as well as provides aid directly to the most vulnerable. UNHCR has delivered hygiene items and kitchen appliances to some 15,000 returnees in Slavyansk, Donetsk region. In June and July three shipments of hygienic items, food, mattresses and bed linens were delivered to Sviatohirsk and some 5,000 displaced persons received relief items in Krasniy Lyman.

Most internally displaced people are hosted by friends, families or are renting accommodation. UNHCR has started a cash assistance programme to support more than 700 internally displaced people in Lviv and Vinnytsia regions.

Last week UNHCR signed a cooperation agreement with Donetsk regional authorities to open a field office in Mariupol to support government officials and coordinate the distribution of aid to the most vulnerable internally displaced people. The first delivery of hygiene and food items took place on 1 August in the town of Yalta, in Pervomaisk district; another shipment is planned in the coming days for Pryazovskiy district, in the south of Donetsk region, which hosts more than 20,000 displaced people.

Most Ukrainians leaving their country are not applying for refugee status. They often seek other legal status. Some fear applying for refugee status will lead to complications and they consider the alternatives available a better temporary solution.

According to Russian authorities, from 1 January to 1 August, 168,677 people applied to the Federal Migration Service. These breakdown as 6,347 for refugee status, 48,914 for temporary asylum, 28,134 for citizenship, 59,858 for temporary residence, 19,943 for residence permits and 5,481 under the programme of resettlement of compatriots.

A larger number of Ukrainians are arriving and staying in Russia under the visa-free regime. According to the Russian authorities around 730,000 Ukrainians arrived since the beginning of the conflict, this includes the 168,677 figure. Around 80% of Ukrainians are staying in border areas, while others are moving to stay with friends or relatives in other parts of the country. Over 585 temporary accommodation facilities are hosting 42,486 people. The Russian authorities have adopted several regulations to facilitate the temporary stay of Ukrainians arriving on its territory.

From January through June of this year, some 2,700 Ukrainians applied for international protection across the European Union.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kiev, Nina Sorokopud on mobile +380 50 310 1767
  • In Moscow, Galina Negrustueva on mobile +7 903 721 7560
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011



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In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

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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.

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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.

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