Ukrainian Refugees in Russia Worse Off than They Were in Ukraine, Russian Official Says

April 20, 2015
Refugees who fled fighting in Ukraine in Rybnoye, near Krasnoyarsk at the Zharki health resort in September 2014. Photo by Ilya Naymushin

Staunton, April 20 — In a statement that undermines Vladimir Putin’s notion that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and that is hardly likely to lead more Ukrainians to view refuge in Russia as an attractive option, a Moscow official says that Ukrainian refugees are much worse off in the Russian capital than they were in their homeland.

In her annual report, Tatyana Potyaeva, the commissioner for human rights in the city of Moscow, says that many Ukrainian refugees came to Russia because of “the absence of any alternative” but their situation has become dire because “despite their cultural closeness and ‘slavic visage,’ [they] often cannot find good work.”

As a result
, she said, “they live in Russia in worse conditions than they had in Ukrain.”

But their situation has gotten worse not only because of their inability to find good jobs but also because of the shortcomings of officials who have not come up with the kind of documentation that would allow them to receive even the benefits they are entitled to under Russian law, Potyaeva says.

As a result, many of the Ukrainian refugees have fallen victim to fraud or even descended into criminal activities, a development that if true will do little to win the Ukrainian refugees in Russia support from Russians. The ombudsman says that Russian officials must do more to reach out to them and provide support, including support to return home if the Ukrainians want that.

Between March and July 2014, more than 20,000 Ukrainians appealed to Moscow officials for refugee status, she says, but by January 1, 2015, only 5,500 of them had received either the status of refugee or temporary asylum in Russia.

According to Potyaeva, the Ukrainian refugees in Moscow – and presumably this applies to Ukrainian refugees elsewhere in the Russian Federation as well – consist of several groups: those who fled areas where military actions were taking place, those from eastern Ukraine where there was no violence, and those from elsewhere in Ukraine who left “in search of a better life.”

Some of the Ukrainians now in Russia do not qualify for refugee status. Indeed, there were at least a few of them who were already in Russia but simply decided to take advantage of the situation either by registering as refugees or entering into marriage with Russians in order to get the social welfare benefits that could provide.

According to Potyaeva, the earlier “flood” of Ukrainian refugees into Moscow has “stopped,” and Russian officials now are in a position to examine each case in particular and grant temporary asylum “only to those who qualify,” most often by having relatives in the Russian capital.