Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Refugees in Russia from Ukraine in Increasingly Desperate Straits, Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 8 – Many Russian regions now have more refugees from Ukraine than they had expected or can handle, and officials suggest that more are likely to arrive as Ukraine’s economy and weather deteriorate. As a result, the situation of these refugees is “becoming critical,” according to experts.


            In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” journalist Vitaly Solovetsky says that local media around the Russian Federation and human rights activists have been reporting about this for some time, but the central government in Moscow has not yet taken the steps necessary to prevent the looming disaster (


Many refugees do not have work, housing or even enough food. In Buryatia, some have even told the republic media that they are starving.  Winter is approaching, and their desperation is increasing, especially since many are not in a position to return to Ukraine because their homes have been destroyed by the fighting.


The situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is especially “catastrophic,” these sources say. There are now approximately 300,000 refugees there from other parts of Ukraine, and in many cases, they lack all the things that the refugees in the Russian Federation do – and now in many cases do not even have water to drink.


Aleksandr Chetverikov, a Duma deputy who serves on the economic policy committee, says that the situation can and must be corrected and that Moscow must identify regions to which refugees can be sent and adequately fund local and regional governments so that they can meet the needs of these people.


The deputy points to the especially horrific situation of such refugees in Sakha, where 30 people from Luhansk oblast were placed in a recently closed corrective labor camp. “Why should they have been moved thousands of kilometers for that?” he asks. Now, he reports, many of the refugees think they would have been better to have remained at home, even under fire.


Vadim Solovyev, another Duma deputy, agrees that more needs to be done.  Unfortunately, he says, Moscow isn’t helping. It sends refugees to this or that region but doesn’t provide the regions with the money they need to do what Moscow has told them to do. The situation as a result is horrific given that the regional governments are nearly bankrupt..


Instead of helping the refugees, Solovyev continues, the government is searching for money in the budget to compensate billionaires who may have suffered as a result of sanctions.


Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institue of Demography, Migration and Regional Development says that the problems arising from this situation are cascading: When regions take money out of other social programs, the local population suffers and blames the refugees when they should be holding Moscow to account.


Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Action organization which helps refugees and IDPs, says that the Russian government’s failure in this regard is shocking given that Moscow has “accepted significantly fewer resettlers than have Turkey and Lebanon” and that Russia has more resources than they do.


Moreover, she points out, those coming to Russia are “people who do not simply speak Russian but are among those for whom the Russian language and culture are native.”  That Moscow is not helping them undermines official claims that the Russian government is working for the “Russian world.”


Deputy Solovyev agrees but blames “the unprofessionalism of many government bureaucrats” for what is taking place.  Such people do very well when it comes to taking acer of themselves, but they don’t do much for others – and in this case, that could lead to “mass protests actions both among the local population and among the refugees.”




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