Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 13.11.2017
Russia invaded Crimea in February of 2014, and Ukrainians began to flee. Russia invaded Donbas in April of 2014, and many more Ukrainians began to flee. With the invasion and occupation by Russia still underway, today over one million six hundred thousand Ukrainians are officially registered as “internally displaced persons.” The United Nations estimates that about four million Ukrainians are in need of humanitarian assistance. Europeans are refugees within Europe. There have not been so many displaced persons from Ukraine, the largest country that is wholly within Europe, since the aftermath of the 1939 to 1944 Nazi German and Soviet Russian invasions of Ukraine. Despite the humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe, other Europeans outside Ukraine are ignoring the invasion by Russia and the refugees generated by it. But ignoring Europe’s real refugee crisis in Ukraine doesn’t make it go away – it makes it worse, and it serves Russia’s war aim of causing ever more misery and chaos within Europe.
The problems of Ukrainian refugees are not being addressed. Those problems are homelessness, joblessness, and hopelessness. The real resolution of a refugee crisis is when people are no longer refugees at all, and can return to their homes. Crimea and Donbas must be liberated from the foreign Russian invaders, and Ukrainians must be allowed to return to the homes that were stolen from them. But Ukraine has not declared war on Russia to recognize of the state of war that exists and has existed since Russia invaded over three and a half years ago. The Ukrainian armed forces are not yet pursuing a strategy of liberation; Ukraine’s army says it is pursuing an “Anti-Terrorist Operation.” War is being fought but war is not declared. The cities of Donetsk and Luhansk are within sight of the Ukrainian army that can liberate them, but they are not being liberated. This is unbearably demoralizing to Ukraine’s “internally displaced persons,” who are told that Ukraine will be whole again but are not told when.
If Europeans who are refugees from Putin’s War cannot return to their homes, then they should be provided for elsewhere in Europe. But this is not happening. Europe outside Ukraine doesn’t even call Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas an “invasion,” doesn’t even call Putin’s War a “war,” and doesn’t even call Ukrainians who are refugees “refugees.” There is no plan and no financing for settlement of refugees outside of Ukraine or indeed inside Ukraine. Europeans fleeing their homes in Crimea and Donbas from Russian invasion armies are left on their own to find housing in Ukraine’s inadequate and corrupt rental market. Rented apartments in Ukraine are almost entirely within the “black” economy: cash payments rendered; no tax paid; no insurance taken. Trapped in the underground economy, refugees go unregistered as residents, and thereby lose the right to vote and the entitlement for low-income support for energy payments. The IMF has required Ukraine to raise natural gas prices to world levels, and this is a crushing blow to refugees when the corrupt rental housing system keeps cost-offsetting government subsidies away from the people who need it most. Ukrainian citizens have the right to live and work anywhere in Ukraine, but Ukrainian “internally displaced persons” trapped in the underground economy are not, technically, legal residents under the corrupt, landlord-favouring, rental housing market. There is no effort to build the massive stock of new housing that is required to accommodate over one million six hundred thousand people.
Joblessness and under-employment is the story for most refugees in Ukraine. The kleptocratic regime of Yanukovych followed by Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas led to a sharp economic decline in Ukraine in 2014. Refugees who lost their jobs in Russia-occupied Ukraine (the Russians are literally stealing factories) did not find new ones or comparable ones in their temporary homes in free Ukraine. Ukraine as a whole is moving closer to European prices, but not closer to European wages at a corresponding pace. All Ukrainians find it tough to earn a living wage, and Ukrainian “internally displaced persons” find it even tougher.
The blame for the homelessness, joblessness, and hopelessness of Europeans who are refugees in Ukraine falls squarely on Russia and Putin. The war in Ukraine is entirely of Muscovy’s making. When the war is over and Crimea and Donbas are liberated, it will be the Russian Federation (if it still exists) that will be paying massive reparations – first and foremost to the Ukrainians who had their homes and lives stolen from them. Over one million six hundred thousand Europeans are refugees within Europe. No one would have believed such a calamity would be possible before 2014. But today Europe is torn apart by war, and more Europeans are displaced from their homes by war than at any time since the 1940s. Russia did this. Defeating Russia and liberating Crimea and Donbas will put it right.