According to estimates from the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, as of early 2017, 1.6 million people have moved from the Russian-occupied Donbas to territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. This figure only includes those who have registered as migrants, and received their documents and social assistance from the state. However, there are those who have independently tried to relocate their lives to a new place without registering.
The Ministry, together with the International Organisation for Migration, set up working groups to survey as many people from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, who have settled in other parts of Ukraine, as possible.
How do these displaced persons live in their new homes? Do they manage to find work and earn money? And why do some people decide to return to the occupied territories? –Hromadske went to find out.
Employment Is The Main Issue For Displaced People
Almost all of the people surveyed said that they had registered with the social services and either receive or would like to receive financial assistance.
However, around 20% of the respondents have had their social payments suspended. The majority (86%) had their provisions for government support suspended, followed by those whose pensions were suspended (14%) and the rest (7%), who had their child support suspended.
There were various reasons for this, as outlined in the survey. Some people had not supplied correct information about their place of residence, some suspensions were based on their level of income and some concealed information about buying cars and apartments that were later discovered during investigations. More than half of the respondents had appealed to the Ministry of Social Policy to resume their support payments.
Most of the families (61%) consist of two-three people and have children. There are more women than men among displaced people, as the men often remain in the occupied territories to look after their homes and land located in the conflict zone.
According to information from the International Organisation for Migration, employment is the main issue for displaced people. Just over 40% have found work in their new place of residence. Less than 30% are unemployed, which is similar to the number of people who do not need to work due to the fact they are receiving pensions or social benefits for disabilities or maternity leave. However, researchers highlight the fact that this is an improvement in comparison to last year’s unemployment level. Moreover, more men have managed to find work than women, but women are more likely to start their own businesses in their place of residence.
Almost all of the people surveyed said that they had registered with the social services. Photo: Nazar Furyk, UNIAN.
The further away migrants from Donetsk and Luhansk move, the more likely they are to find work. 16% had found employment in the eastern regions, whereas up to 45% found employment in the western regions of Ukraine. These migrants also find jobs in the same professions they had before the move.
According to the volunteers and representatives from local authorities interviewed, migrants complain about low salaries and the fact that there are less opportunities for them in the villages they were moved to for free housing. Old age, disability and corruption are the most common reasons preventing people from finding a job.
Salaries are quite low for migrants. 45% can only afford to pay for food out of their own money. The average wage of a displaced person is around 75 dollars per month. However, wages in the major cities are higher than in rural areas.
There Is Still A Lack Of Home Appliances
Housing is also an important issue for migrants, which was mentioned by 70% of those surveyed. Almost a third of them have complained about their living conditions, 23% have trouble paying their rent and a further 20% have difficulty paying their utility bills.
Two-thirds of the migrants from Donbas rent accommodation (flats, houses, rooms). The notion of buying their own houses is unrealistic, however they are satisfied with their electricity and water supplies and their drainage systems.
Representatives from the focus group, including human rights activists and representatives from NGOs, also point out that there is still a lack of home appliances, furniture and kitchenware.
Migrants Are Mostly Satisfied With Their Access To Social Services
The study indicates that these migrants are mostly satisfied with their access to social services. There are still issues regarding their access to medical care, however, this is something which does not only affect migrants.
Most of respondents stated that the biggest drawback in terms of their access to social services is the lack of money and access to information (36% and 35% respectively).
In answer to the question, “Do you feel safe in the environment around where you live now?”, 78% of respondents answered positively. 16% of the surveyed migrants feel unsafe at night and in rural areas, and 6% feel unsafe most of the time. The researchers also note that the further away the migrants are from the boundary line, the safer they feel.
For Most Of People, This Is The First Time They Have Ever Moved
Around half of the migrants have lived in one place for more than eighteen months. For most of them, this is the first time they have ever moved.
According to the International Organisation for Migration’s research, a third of the displaced people have stayed in the same place for 3 months.
One third of those who have left dangerous areas have moved to Ukrainian territory and only 2% have moved abroad. There is no information on the whereabouts of the remaining two-thirds.
One third of those who have left dangerous areas have moved to Ukrainian territory. Photo: Viktor Kovalchuk, UNIAN.
Less than 1% of migrants have planned on moving back to their former place of residence in the future. Almost 40% wish to return once the conflict has ended, 17% say that, if it is possible, then then will go back, and 26% have no plans to go back at all.
Slightly less than half of those surveyed have been back to their old homes, either check the state of their homes and maintain them, pick up belongings, or to visit friends and family
Some People Feel Discriminated Against Due To Their Status As Displaced People
88% of migrants have either fully or partly integrated into their new communities. This was a difficult process due to their issues with housing and employment, because this is considered a major factor in integrating migrants into their new environments.
18% of the respondents stated that they have felt discriminated against due to their status as displaced people. According to the results of the study, most cases of discrimination occur when looking for housing or employment, because they are often refused jobs and houses once people find out that they are from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Respondents also reported aggressive behaviour against them and prejudice against migrant children in nurseries, schools and universities.
The study also looked into the voting rights of the migrants. Only 6% of respondents were able to vote in the local elections in 2015. Most of those that were able to were migrants now living in the west of the country. The main reason they were deprived of this opportunity was the fact that they had not registered with the local authorities. A further 25% stated that they simply did not know how to vote or register with the local authorities. However, more than half believe that the right to vote is important, therefore would if they could.
Almost A Half Of Those Who Returned To Donbas Are Happy With Their Decisions
8% of the 3,132 respondents came back to the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Mostly them were women (61%) of pensionable age.
They receive $64 (1,711 UAH), which is even lower than minimum wage in Ukraine. Reasons for their return range from an inability to reach an adequate standard of living compared to what they had before the conflict, to not having enough money for personal needs.
Pensions and salaries, to a lesser degree, are the main sources of money for those who return. 94% of these people live in their own apartments and houses, homes of others were damaged during bombardments. Their main reason for returning home, even if it’s dangerous there, is to protect their households.
According to the research, almost a half of those who returned are happy with their decisions (they name "being at home" as a reason). One-third were undecided and only 7% were totally unhappy with their decisions (because they don’t feel safe and suffer financial hardships).
63% plan to stay in occupied Donbas, while 16% think it’s better to live on the territories controlled by Ukrainian government.
/Reporting by Anna Tokhmakhchi
/Translated by Sofia Fedezcko, Liuda Kornievych