Ukraine - From War to Democracy?

This week Ukraine is holding presidential elections. Five years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the conflict in the Donbas region is still ongoing. Thousands of people are still displaced. What is the refugee situation like in the conflicts’ sixth year?


On March 31, Ukraine is holding Presidential election. No less than 43 candidates challenge current President Petro Poroshenko. Five years after the Maidan protests and the annexation of Crimea, the country is still suffering from an ongoing armed conflict in its eastern Donbas region – the last conflict in Europe since the war in Yugoslavia.


The conflict has caused only a limited refugee movement. Roughly 200,000 people fled the country, making up about 4.5% of Ukraine’s population. Women comprise 30% of this refugee population. This shows that military recruitment could be a major reason for migration. Another 1.8 million, however, are internally displaced (IDPs). Ukraine has the 8th-largest IDP-population world-wide. Most of them moved to the larger cities, such as Kiev or Odesa. The amount of asylum-seekers dropped significantly. While 288,000 Ukrainians applied for asylum abroad in 2014, only 32,000 did so in 2017.


Ukraine’s net migration rate (immigrants minus emigrants) is almost zero. The conflict has, therefore, hardly affected emigration. Seasonal work is a major reason for this. Poland has issued 235,000 work permits to Ukrainians in 2018. The numbers are increasing every year. They work in agriculture or construction and send money back to their families. These remittances made up 5,845 million $ last year. Other diasporas exist in Russia (2.9 million), the USA (330,000) and Germany (234,000).


The conflict produced comparatively few refugees. However, migration helps financing the 1.8 million internally displaced within Ukraine. Allowing regular migration proves to reduce refugee numbers and help destination countries’ labor shortages: Poland lacks labor supply, because the young leave the country towards western Europe. It is time to re-think migration.



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