Ukrainian Returnees Escape Violence in Syria
It is late when Natalia and her three children enter the arrival hall of Kyiv Boryspil airport, exhausted after their long journey from Damascus, but safe.
Natalia is one of 54 stranded Ukrainian women and children helped by IOM to escape the conflict in Syria as of mid-July. She and her kids, aged seven, nine and eleven, underwent a traumatic experience and will need time to recover.
Natalia’s family used to live in the suburbs of the city of Deir ez-Zor. A few years ago her Syrian husband went to study in Ukraine and when the conflict in Syria began, found himself unable to return home.
When the violence reached their neighborhood, Natalia decided to go back to Ukraine. But her first attempt to get to the Ukrainian Embassy in Damascus nearly ended tragically when a bomb exploded less than 100 meters from their car.
At their second attempt, the family managed to get to Damascus, but on their way back, armed men stopped their taxi and threatened to kill Natalia and her kids because of suspicions about other passengers.
When recalling this incident, Natalia needs a couple of minutes to calm down: “I was so scared! So scared because of the kids! Only by God’s will we have survived. I will never go back there until it all stops,” she says.
At the end of June, the Ukrainian Embassy in Damascus approached IOM to help Natalia and her children. “Several embassies have asked us to help their vulnerable stranded nationals and we have now helped some 620 people to return home, including the Ukrainians, with funding from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund,” says IOM Syria Chief of Mission Maria Rumman.
Natalia says she is grateful to the Ukrainian Consul in Damascus who did his best to help her family and to IOM. “Our return also wouldn’t be possible without IOM,” she says.
According to Natalia, many Ukrainian women live in Deir ez-Zor and are married to Syrians who studied in Ukrainian universities.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) says that about 5,000 Ukrainian citizens were still in Syria at the beginning of July. “We are doing our best to assist those who are willing to return, and are grateful to IOM for its help in moving Ukrainians, especially Ukrainian women, out of Syria,” says Head of the MFA Directorate General for Information Policy Oleh Voloshyn.
“After the successful evacuation of a number of Ukrainians from Libya last year, IOM will continue to help Ukraine relocate any vulnerable Ukrainian citizens who want to leave Syria. Travel arrangements for a further 27 are in the pipeline,” says IOM Ukraine Chief of Mission Manfred Profazi.