By Andrew Roth, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2014
DONETSK, Russia — Oksana Shevelina, 62, who came here with her elderly mother just a few days ago from their home in eastern Ukraine, squinted at a map of the Russian Federation. She traced with her index finger an imaginary railroad into the Russian heartland, through the black earth of southern Russia, across the Volga River and into the industrial towns that dot the Ural Mountains a thousand miles away.
She was searching, with difficulty, for her new home. “Young man,” she asked, “where is Perm?”
More than a million Ukrainians have been displaced because of the war, the United Nations said in a recent report, and hundreds of thousands of them have found their way into Russia. Faced with that influx, Russia is promoting a huge resettlement program and encouraging refugees to put down roots in far-flung cities across the country.
With promises of work, shelter, pensions and a path to citizenship, the Moscow-sponsored programs are intended to bolster Russia’s image as the benevolent power in the region, embracing Ukrainians who have often fled from government shelling. They also may persuade tens of thousands of Ukrainians never to return home after the conflict ends.
The influx could also bring talented employees and new workers to some of Russia’s more remote and less populated regions, Olga Golodets, a Russian deputy prime minister, said recently.
“Today, there are more than 207,000 refugees from Ukraine on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Ms. Golodets said late last week on the Echo of Moscow radio station. “It is an enormous figure. And indeed, as of today, the majority of those people are resettling to the regions of Russia.”
In practice, the program has transformed the refugee camps near the border into bustling points of departure, where refugees board overnight trains and buses into the Russian hinterland just days or sometimes hours after crossing the border.
On Sunday, the government of Rostov, a region that borders southeast Ukraine, announced that 42,718 Ukrainians had been transported by the government to cities elsewhere in Russia.
Ms. Shevelina, a frail but energetic woman with hair dyed electric red, had fled shelling near her hometown, Novosvitlivka, in mid-August with her 83-year-old mother, who was unable to walk and normally got around in a wheelchair.
Now, like tens of thousands of other recent arrivals, Ms. Shevelina was being encouraged to travel farther. A migration official in the camp suggested several cities, and she scribbled the unfamiliar names on a supermarket flyer: Perm, Nazran in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia, and Kaluga, not far from Moscow. The next day, she said, she would board a train to one of those cities. She vowed never to return to Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the conflict, figures for the numbers of refugees have been a political issue, with accusations that Russia inflated the totals to put pressure on Kiev. In that context, Ms. Golodets’ recent numbers represented some of the most conservative estimates by a Russian official, counting only those who have officially applied for government programs or a form of refugee status.
Ms. Golodets said that 50,000 Ukrainian children had been enrolled in Russian schools, which opened on Monday, and that 12,800 adults had already been placed in jobs in the regions.
According to the Federal Migration Service, 78,000 more have applied for “temporary residency,” which grants refugees a government stipend and the possibility of employment. Russia in April also eased rules to give passports to those who speak Russian and whose ancestors lived in the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.
The Russian government said it would try to close the refugee camps in September, before the arrival of cold weather.
With cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg mostly closed to refugees, Russian television recently broadcast clips of several hundred shellshocked Ukrainian families debarking from planes in cities like Magadan and Yakutsk, the coldest inhabited city on earth.
“Perhaps 25 or 30 percent of the refugees are looking to return, and they are staying in regions close to the border,” said Anatoli Korol, an official with the Ministry of Emergency Situations for the Rostov region. He said that he had overseen the departure of 1,500 refugees a day by rail. “The rest are people going far away. And those are people who, I think, are never going to come back.”
Most leaving Ukraine who were interviewed recently by a reporter said that they had fled shelling that they attributed to the Ukrainian government forces. Most supported the rebels and were angry with the government in Kiev.
“This is forever,” said Natalya Tsybulskaya, 30, an accountant from Donetsk, lining up for a bus that would take her to a train and then on to the city of Ufa, just west of the Urals. A native of the Vinnytsia region, west of Kiev, she moved to Ukraine’s east with her new husband, Sergei, a taxi driver and delivery agent. “I hope that the people from Kiev will have to live through what we have lived through,” Ms. Tsybulskaya said. “I believe in justice.”
Sergei said he would have fought for the Donetsk People’s Republic, the self-proclaimed government, but was dissuaded by his wife, who encouraged him to flee the city with their son and daughter.
When they were offered a chance to move to Ufa, they Googled the city. The schools seemed modern, Ms. Tsybulskaya said. Prices were higher, and she did not know what they would do for work — they had been forced to leave their car behind.
Sergei thought about how his family would fit in when they arrived in the mostly Muslim region. “Perhaps they will be secular,” he mused.
Those staying longer in the camps were often waiting for the arrival of a loved one still in Ukraine: a wife visiting elderly relatives, a husband working in the mines or, perhaps, fighting in the militias. Many had children with them.
Oksana Kirilyuk, 36, smoked a cigarette nervously outside of Tent 51. She had left behind a 10-year-old son in Horlivka when rockets began falling on the city in early August. She had brought her second son, Bogdan, 8, with her in a refugee convoy hastily organized by the city’s rebels.
The bus was overcrowded, and she traveled the dangerous road into Russia on her suitcase. “We always thought the war would go around us,” she said as the sun set over the refugee camp. “Instead it plowed right through.”
She had taken the opportunity to christen Bogdan in a tent crowded with religious icons lent by the Russian Orthodox Church. Her mother-in-law, a steadfast atheist, remained back home.
Ms. Kirilyuk cradled an ornate certificate from the ceremony as she wondered about the fate of her older son, with whom she had not spoken in weeks. “I cannot leave with one son,” she said through tears. “It is either both of them, or I will go back. Or stay here and wait.”
Nearby, Viktor Koshelyov, a welder from Luhansk with salt-and-pepper hair, perused a handwritten list of factories where he might find work. He was hoping to travel to the city of Samara.
He said he had been trying to leave the camp for several days, but had not found a place to work. “At my age, I could never do this on my own,” he said. “If they let me work, then I will go.”
For some, however, the prospect of several days in the camp served as a reality check. When Oleg and Natasha arrived here after a day of travel through the border zone, they quickly hired a taxi to take them back to Ukraine after seeing the crowded and chaotic conditions. “We changed our minds,” Natasha said. “Once we finished all of the paperwork, we looked inside the tents and … well, you understand.”
Their hometown, Krasnodon, sits about 16 miles from the Russian border. Aside from a few bouts of shelling that damaged a church, it has remained whole. Cellphones do not work, but there is electricity and running water. “I am not ready for this,” she said. “My children are not ready for this.”
Appendix, by A Socialist in Canada:
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Excerpt: pages 26-28:
VII. SITUATION OF INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPs)
143. As of 14 August, UNHCR reported that 155,800 IDPs had been identified by the Government of Ukraine. Of these, 139,621 were from the Donbas region, and 16,179 were from Crimea. The actual scale of internal displacement is higher, as many IDPs have not identified themselves at this stage, namely those staying with friends and relatives or hosted by civil society groups. Mostly those IDPs have registered who require social welfare assistance, despite the fact that the procedures for registration are not clear.
144. Despite this, IDPs from the Donbas area continue to report hoping that their displacement will be short-lived and that they will be able to return home at the end of the summer. For this reason, many remain near to their homes, staying in rural areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions or in the nearby regions of Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya. Due to insecurity, humanitarian actors have not been able to assess the situation of persons displaced in the Luhansk region.
145. Among the IDP population registered by the Government, 53% are adults. 65% of all IDPs are women, 35% are children, and 12% are older persons and persons with disabilities. Older persons and persons with disabilities are having difficulty obtaining (or paying for) healthcare, including medication. They cannot move as easily to new locations. A large number of displaced children need to be enrolled in schools, a process that is only just beginning. With many men having remained behind, IDP women face the often overwhelming challenge of caring for elderly and disabled relatives, supporting children who are deeply affected by the violence they have witnessed.
146. The movements of people over the last month have responded to the developments of the continuing fighting. After the Government re-established control of various towns in the northern Donetsk region in early July, many IDPs returned. For example, some 20,000 IDPs returned to Slovyansk from other areas of the Donetsk region. Local authorities in Slovyansk estimate that while some 40% of the population was displaced at the peak of the hostilities, up to 90% had returned home by 17 August.
147. However, the intensified fighting in the urban areas of Donetsk and Luhansk cities and neighbouring towns has led to larger waves of displacement, with the number of displaced rising by more than 50,000 persons in the three weeks from 15 July – 8 August. According to local authorities and IDP accounts, between a third to one half of the population have left Donetsk and Luhansk cities, which suggests that over 450,000 people would have been displaced from these cities alone. However, leaving these cities has become more dangerous with IDPs reporting that armed groups block the departure of men, and that they must travel on long winding journeys riddled with dozens of checkpoints.
148. Regional and local authorities are providing some emergency shelter for IDPs in collective centres, but large cities like Kharkiv, Kyiv and Lviv – where employment opportunities are generally better – report that they do not have any more free spaces to accommodate IDPs. In part, their reluctance stems from the fact that the central Government has not yet guaranteed any funds to help regions pay for accommodation of IDPs from the Donbas area.
149. Shelter and humanitarian assistance are also being provided by a wide array of business, religious and civic groups, but this has started to subside. With the displacement entering its fifth month, fatigue and lack of capacity has started to set in, and this is compounded by the economic downturn.
150. Deeper tensions are also emerging. Host populations and IDPs are competing over scarce resources. In various cities, this competition is expressed over the issue of pre-school slots, since these are in short supply in Ukraine’s urban areas. In western Ukraine, host populations increasingly resent male IDPs, accusing them of evading military service while men from the west are being mobilized. IDPs staying at a church-run centre near Kyiv reported being threatened by their neighbours who accused them of stealing jobs and evading their military duties. Some media outlets are fuelling these resentments with alarmist articles about the alleged misbehaviour of IDPs from the east. According to UNHCR and civil society, some IDPs in Kyiv and Lviv have reported that landlords have become reluctant to rent apartments to them because they are from the Donbas area. Those IDPs who have fled without their “labour book” – a document normally retained by employers – face difficulties in obtaining official employment or accessing unemployment insurance.
151. In the area around Mariupol, some IDPs live in dire conditions, sleeping in tents, cars or decrepit summer camp facilities. A joint UN mission visited locations with insufficient toilet facilities and no potable water. These conditions pose serious health risks, and are completely untenable for the winter months. An unknown number of IDPs are staying in camps and other old buildings, which cannot be efficiently heated. The regional authorities are just beginning to plan how to extend shelter to IDPs over the winter, which is expected to be complex and costly.
152. Local and regional governments throughout the country are responding to these humanitarian needs to the best of their abilities with limited resources and guidance from the central level. What is needed is a more systematic approach backed by a clear allocation of responsibilities and resources from the central level.
153. The President vetoed a law adopted by Parliament on 17 June on the rights of persons displaced from Crimea or the “zone of the anti-terrorist operation”. Civil society organizations expressed serious concerns about it, including that it would have established overly complex procedures for registration and would not solve the administrative problems IDPs face in accessing their social and economic rights. The Presidential Administration has consulted extensively with civil society in drafting a new piece of legislation.