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 in government-controlled territory at the end of 2018.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Initially peaceful demonstrations began in the capital Kyiv in November 2013, after the then president Viktor Yanukovych refused a trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union and opted instead to sign a deal with Russia. The protesters saw closer ties with Europe as the answer to the country’s poor economic and political situation. The demonstrations, known as EuroMaidan, spread and became increasingly violent, continuing until February 2014 when Yanukovych fled Ukraine and the opposition took power.
Russian forces appeared in Crimea shortly afterwards, seized control of military and government buildings and installed a pro-Russia leadership. Following a referendum backed by Moscow on the republic’s future, Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. Many people fled before the referendum and after the annexation, whether out of fear or because of threats, intimidation and discrimination based on their ethnicity or political alignment.
Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from the rest of the country in May 2014, prompting a military response from Kiev. Despite several ceasefire agreements, hostilities have continued and the two regions, or oblasts, have remained beyond Ukraine’s control ever since.
The resulting conflict, insecurity, violence and human rights violations have forced large numbers of people to flee, as has the lack of access to adequate housing, livelihoods, welfare benefits, social services, healthcare and education.
The volatile security situation, particularly along the contact line that spans five kilometres across Ukraine’s eastern regions, and IDPs’ dwindling access to supplies, local services and assistance mean there is also an ongoing risk of repeated displacement.
Where and how do people move?
The majority of people who have fled the conflict are internally displaced. Some have left for Russia and other neighbouring countries, but their number is unknown. There is also little information on the number, location, movements and living conditions of people displaced in areas of Ukraine outside the government’s control, including Crimea.
Most registered IDPs in government-controlled areas live in urban centres in the east of the country. Some have moved on from the areas they registered in, but their 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 before the conflict broke out, most of them members of the Muslim Crimean Tatar minority.
Many men stayed behind in conflict areas to take care of their family’s property and continue working while women and children fled. Many older people and others with limited mobility also stayed because they were unable to endure a long journey. This has led to family separation and increased vulnerability for the women and children who fled and the older people left behind.
Regional authorities have provided IDPs with collective accommodation such as summer camp facilities, hotels, dormitories and communal buildings for a small fee. Others live with relatives and friends, with host communities or in rented accommodation. Housing is not always suitable for people with disabilities and is sometimes far away from schools.
Many IDPs return to their homes temporarily to collect household items and check on their property. Others have returned more permanently because they are no longer able to afford to live in government-controlled areas. People who return to or flee from areas not under government control must pass one of five checkpoints along the contact line, where they are vulnerable to harassment and crime.
Some people living in areas not under government control have registered as IDPs to be able to access their welfare benefits, but they have to travel regularly to government-controlled areas to collect them.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
IDPs and others living along the contact line and in areas not under government control face chronic insecurity and limited access to water, electricity and medicine. Access to livelihoods and shelter is also inadequate. Some living in government-controlled areas have felt obliged to return to insecure areas, including places where they face active conflict, landmines and little prospect of assistance. In 2018, 15 per cent more crossings were recorded at the five official checkpoints along the contact line, with 1.1 million crossings per month, over half of which were made by the elderly over 60 years old.
Accessing various forms of civil documentation remains a challenge for all those affected by the conflict, including IDPs. The lack of documentation limits access to services and benefits and hinders freedom of movement, particularly for those living along the ‘contact line.’ IDPs from Crimea and non-government controlled areas (NGCAs) face delays in obtaining passports or restoring lost or damaged documents. A generation of graduates in NGCAs risk having fewer higher education and employment opportunities due to issues around authentication of documentation received in NGCAs.
Displaced Roma are in a particularly vulnerable situation because they tend not to have national identity documents. Roma and other IDPs without documents are prevented from registering as IDPs, gaining formal employment, accessing healthcare and officially renting an apartment. Their situation is made worse by discrimination on the part of host communities and authorities. Little information is available on the needs of Crimean Tatar IDPs.
After four years of conflict, displacement has become protracted and based on a survey conducted by IOM in June 2018, for the first time, the number of IDPs who intent to stay in their area of displacement is higher than the number of IDPs who intend to return to their areas of origin.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
IDMC’s estimates of new displacements and total number of IDPs in Ukraine does not include IDPs living in non-government controlled areas (NGCAs) or in Crimea, therefore making the figure conservative. It is based on data from the following four sources: the statistical population exercise led by the United Nations and other agencies ahead of the publication of the HNO 2018 and HNO2019, OCHA Ukraine’s bulletin, Protection Cluster Ukraine’s monthly factsheets, and updates from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and other national authorities, as published by Thomson Reuters.
IDMC’s estimates of the total number of IDPs in Ukraine and the number of new displacements in 2018 are based on data and information provided by the UN, the media and the Protection Cluster. IDMC’s estimate of 800,000 IDPs is based on a population projection produced by the UN and its partners. It consists of people living more permanently in government-controlled areas and those newly displaced during the year. The 1.5 million people registered as displaced in the database maintained by Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy is widely acknowledged by humanitarian actors to be an overestimate because it includes at least 477,000 people who are no longer displaced but remain on the registry to access their pensions.
IDMC accounted for the number of people who reportedly returned to their residences after being evacuated in October 2018 when a series of explosions occurred at an ammunition depot, as having reached partial solutions.