The current internal displacement crisis in Ukraine arose from armed conflict triggered in March 2014 by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, and the subsequent proclamations of independence by the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
Since the annexation, Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in its eastern provinces.Over two million people have been internally displaced. With no clear prospects of conflict resolution, displacement is increasingly becoming protracted. Based on the available data and contextual information provided by in-country partners, we estimate that approximately 800,000 IDPs were living somehow permanently on government-controlled territory at the end of 2017.
In November 2013, after the Ukrainian president refused to sign a trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union and instead opted for an economic deal with Russia, demonstrations deteriorated into violence in the capital city of Kiev and other parts of Ukraine. Protesters saw closer European integration as the answer to the poor economic and political situation in the country. Known as EuroMaidan, the demonstrations became increasingly violent and continued into February 2014, when the president fled Ukraine and the opposition took power.
Shortly after this, Russian forces appeared in Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea, seized control over key military and government buildings, and installed pro-Russian leadership. In March 2014, Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea, following a Russian-backed referendum. Many people fled before the referendum and after Russia declared the annexation out of fear or because of threats, intimidation or discrimination based on their ethnicity or political opinions.
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine declared independence from the rest of the country. Ukraine responded with military force, and despite several ceasefire agreements, hostilities between the two sides have continued ever since. Since 2014, Ukraine has lacked effective control over those areas.
The resulting insecurity, violence, human rights violations and conflict have forced people to flee, as has the lack of access to adequate housing, livelihoods, benefits, social services, medical care and education. There is also an ongoing risk of repeated displacement if the security situation deteriorates, especially along the contact line spanning five kilometers across Ukraine’s eastern regions, or if IDPs’ access to supplies, local services and assistance continues to diminish.
The majority of people displaced by the conflict are internally displaced. Exact number so those who have fled to Russia and other neighbouring countries are unknown. There is also a gap in information on the numbers, location, movements and accommodation of people displaced within non-government-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
In areas controlled by the Ukrainian government, most registered IDPs live in urban centres in eastern Ukraine. Some have moved on from the areas they registered in, but their onward movements have not been systematically tracked. Most fled the fighting in the east and were displaced as early as 2014. A small number of people fled Crimea in 2014 before the conflict in the east began. The majority of those IDPs were members of the Muslim Crimean Tatar minority.
In the east, many men stayed in conflict areas to take care of family property and continue working. Many older people and others with limited mobility also stayed because they could not physically endure a long journey. As a result, mostly women and children fled at the beginning, leading to family separation and increased vulnerability for women, children and the older people left behind.
Regional administrations in Ukraine have provided IDPs with collective accommodation such as summer camp facilities, hotels, dormitories and communal buildings for a small fee. IDPs also live with relatives and friends, in accommodation offered by host communities or in rented housing. Accommodation is not always suitable for people with disabilities and is sometimes far away from schools.
Many IDPs have temporarily returned to their homes to collect household items and to check on their property. Others return because they can no longer afford to live in areas controlled by the government. People returning to or fleeing from areas not controlled by the government must pass one of five checkpoints along the contact line, where they are vulnerable to harassment and criminal elements .
Some civilians living in non-government-controlled areas have registered as IDPs so as to access their social benefits. They must travel to government-controlled areas regularly to collect these benefits.
IDPs and others living along the contact line between areas controlled by the Ukrainian government and those outside of its control face chronic insecurity and limited access to water, electricity and medicine. Access to livelihoods and shelter solutions are inadequate, and some people have been forced to return from government-controlled to insecure areas, including places where they face active conflict, landmines and little assistance.
IDPs with Ukrainian citizenship residing in areas not controlled by the government who have lost or had their passports destroyed cannot cross the contact line and obtaining a new passport entails a complicated procedure. In government-controlled areas, IDPs with identity documents face difficulties and delays in getting social benefits and pension payments, for which proof of residence and an IDP certificate are required and applications must be submitted in person. This is difficult for minors, while people displaced within the same settlement or district are not eligible.
IDPs in south and central Ukraine and in the eastern oblasts have struggled with high rents and the closure of collective centres. Their coping mechanisms and savings have been eroded, and they have limited possibilities to resolve their housing situations on their own. There are no government programmes to secure housing, nor are there effective mechanisms for assessment and compensation or restitution for uninhabitable property.
Other IDP protection and assistance needs in government-controlled areas relate to freedom of movement and protection across the contact line, birth registrations, access to adequate housing, long-term integration, and obtaining voting rights in local elections.
Displaced Roma are in a particularly vulnerable situation because Roma people generally lack national identification documents. Roma and other IDPs without documents are prevented from registering as IDPs, gaining formal employment, accessing medical assistance and officially renting an apartment. Their situation is worsened by discrimination on the part of host communities and authorities. There is also a gap in information on the needs of another minority group, the Crimean Tatar IDPs.
IDMC’s estimate of the number of IDPs in Ukraine refers to displaced people living within government-controlled areas. It is based on data compiled by OCHA, which in turn analysed figures from several sources including IOM, the IDP database maintained by Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, its national statistics bureau and the state pension fund. For Ukraine’s new displacements, our estimates were based on event figures collected by OCHA and its partners in the field. Many returned IDPs living in areas not controlled by the government remain in the Ministry of Social Policy database in order to access their pensions and other benefits and services. Unfortunately, the exact number of people in this category is unknown.
We note that even the people who have returned to their former homes may still have vulnerabilities and face risks associated with their displacement. In this sense, their return home does not imply the achievement of a durable solution. Our figure is also a conservative estimate in that it does not include IDPs living in areas not controlled by the government, about whom we were not able to obtain any data.
|Displacement type||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)||Return (Flow)|
Percentage of population
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Subnational - admin 1||Unknown|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage||Unknown|
|Frequency of reporting||Every month||No update||No update|
|Disaggregation on sex||Partial||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||Partial||No||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||Contradictory data||No Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||No||No|
|Data on local integration||No||No||No|
|Data on deaths||Partial||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
IDMC’s estimates of the number of IDPs in Ukraine refer to displaced people living within government-controlled areas. It is based on data compiled by the Inter-Agency Technical Working Group, which in turn triangulated different datasets from several sources, including the Government. For Ukraine’s new displacements, we based our estimates on figures of events collected by the UN and their partners on the field.