Moscow’s Promises to Refugees From Ukraine Proving Hollow

September 5, 2014
Ukrainian refugees arrive in Magadan and Yakutsk. Photo: MagadanMedia, YSIA

Staunton, September 5 – Some 200 refugees from Ukraine have been “disinformed” and now find themselves in Sakha “without documents, practically without money, without work and without clear prospects in advance of a severe winter,” according to Yana Lantratova, a member of the Russian Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.

Yesterday, Lantratova published a report on her September 1 visit to the refugees in Sakha on the website of the council. Her findings are truly damning about the gap between what Moscow promised and what it has delivered and suggest that refugees from Ukraine are suffering not only there but elsewhere as well.

The first group of 185 refugees was brought to Sakha from Crimea by a charter flight, she reports. Before getting on the plane, Russian migration officials took away their Ukrainian passports, which have not yet been returned to them. And these officials told them they were being sent to Sakha rather than a nearby region only two hours before the flight.

Moreover, Lantratova reports, the Russian officials gave the refugees “false information” that Sakha was one of the regions where the Russian program for the resettlement of compatriots is operating. That is not true, and the falseness of the Russian statements about that was confirmed by Sakha officials who say they have been unsuccessful in getting help from Moscow.

The refugees from Ukraine were also told by Russian officials that they could get jobs paying 120,000-140,000 rubles (3,000-3,500 US dollars) a month. What they were not told is that these jobs would not be available to them and that the best they could hope for would be 20,000-30,000 rubles (500-750 US dollars).

The refugees were not told that there are major problems with kindergartens and schools in Sakha and with housing. When they arrived in that northeastern republic and not given their documents back, they have not been able to open bank accounts which would allow friends and relatives to send them money.

“Ukrainian bank cards do not work on the territory of Russia” now, Lantratova points out, and consequently, the refugees in many cases have no money at all.

Those refugees from Ukraine in Sakha who have asked to be moved to places where they can get assistance have been told that there is no money for that because they have already “used up their right to a free flight” having been transported by the Russian state from Crimea to the Republic of Sakha.

Many of them are fearful of what awaits them when the temperature in Sakha drops this winter to 60 degrees of frost. And it seems clear from what Lantratova reports that the refugee situation in Sakha is about to get worse: 400 more are scheduled to arrive in the near future, and another 1043 in a few months.

She concludes her report by saying that Sakha officials have adopted “an active and constructive” approach but that the refugees are suffering because of “the initial disinformation” provided by Moscow officials and by the fact that under current conditions, the Sakha officials can do little if Moscow does not act.