Ukraine displacement worsening as winter looms

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the crisis in Ukraine entering its first winter, UNHCR is racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people cope with expected harsh winter conditions.

Ongoing fighting in the east, and the resulting breakdown of basic services, continues to drive more people from their homes. The need for humanitarian aid is increasing particularly around Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, and in the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzia regions. Estimates as of yesterday (Thursday 23 October) are that Ukraine's internally displaced population has risen to 430,000 people, some 170,000 more than at the start of September.

Some 95 per cent of the displaced are from eastern Ukraine, and are concentrated in Donetsk and Kharkiv, as well as in Kyiv and other cities. In all of these areas, UNHCR has been distributing emergency humanitarian assistance targeting the most vulnerable. We are planning to distribute additional winter clothes and blankets over the coming weeks, as well as providing 400,000 square metres of reinforced tarpaulin sheets for roof repairs in the east of Ukraine.

While the majority of the displaced people are staying in rented accommodation or with family and friends, an estimated 14,000 to 18,700 people are currently living in collective centres. With the onset of winter, one of the urgent priorities is to make sure that these centres are weather-proofed and that warm blankets and winter clothes are being provided for those in greatest need. UNHCR plans to refurbish forty collective centres in major arrival areas.

Cash assistance programmes amounting to some US$250,000 have been established in cooperation with the local authorities to support highly vulnerable individuals, many of whom have not received pensions or welfare payments due to the conflict. So far, some 1,600 people in the Kyiv, Lviv and Vinnytsia regions have benefited from this. The programme is being extended to six other parts of Ukraine.

In the past two weeks, Ukraine has taken important steps to protect and assist displaced people with new government resolutions on registration and assistance. Some 16,000 families have been registered in the last week. UNHCR looks forward to the establishment of a central agency and full and timely registration of the displaced over the coming weeks.

On Monday, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a law on the rights and freedoms of internally displaced people. The law, which was developed with support from UNHCR and civil society, extends a specific set of rights to internally displaced people, providing protection against discrimination, forcible return and assistance in any voluntary returns. The law also simplifies access to different social and economic services.

UNHCR hopes that rapid implementation of this legislation will help displaced people in finding safe shelter, jobs and proper access to services. The law obliges the government to start developing a policy on integration of internally displaced people, which is expected to lead to better planning for those in need.

Meanwhile, in the Russian Federation, over 207,000 Ukrainians have applied for refugee status or temporary asylum since the beginning of this year, according to the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation. In addition, some 180,000 Ukrainians have applied for other forms of legal stay in Russia, such as temporary or permanent residence permits. A larger number of Ukrainians are arriving in Russia under the visa-free regime between the two countries.

Most Ukrainians arriving in Russia stay with relatives, friends or find private accommodation either in a host family or rent their own apartments. The Russian authorities have adopted several regulations to facilitate the temporary stay of Ukrainians arriving in their territory and UNHCR hopes that equal treatment will be afforded to refugees from other countries too.

As of the end of September, over 6,600 Ukrainians had requested asylum in European Union countries, compared with 903 applications during the whole of 2013. The EU country receiving the largest number of Ukrainian asylum seekers has been Poland (1,632), followed by Sweden (841). In addition, 581 Ukrainians have sought asylum this year in Belarus.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 91 20
  • In Geneva, William Spindler on mobile +41 79 217 30 11