COVID-19 Forces Huge Numbers of Ukrainians Home to Face Fraught Future

Posted: 
04/03/20
Themes: 
COVID-19

Kyiv – The largest country completely within Europe, Ukraine is facing a myriad of complex challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has caused at least a dozen deaths, and the number of confirmed cases is approaching 1,000.  

The country’s creaking economy and the conflict in the East are among the reasons up to three million Ukrainians were working abroad when the pandemic hit; over 1.4 million are internally displaced. Large numbers of expatriates rushed home before Ukraine closed its border: 37,000 on 27 March alone, the last day border crossings were open. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine assisted over 145,000 Ukrainians returning home; many others made their own way back. Some returned because their jobs abroad vanished overnight, others to be with their families, particularly their elderly parents. 

Apart from the challenges posed to a woefully under-resourced health system, the pandemic also finds a country searching for a way to overcome massive job losses nationwide. According to the estimates, up to 700,000 Ukrainians have already lost their jobs during the first weeks of the quarantine – those working in the internal ‘grey’ economy, whose workforce totals around 3.5 million.   

“The COVID-19 outbreak, consequent business closures and economic slowdown in the EU and near abroad caused a surge in returning migrant workers to Ukraine, posing a number of protection concerns and placing further weight on the far-reaching socioeconomic impact of the pandemic,” said Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine.   

IOM, in partnership with WHO and the UN Country Team, is ready to assist Ukraine to respond to COVID-19, to provide operational and technical support in the area of migration and health, and to prepare for the much-feared second wave. The organization is currently reallocating available resources to assist in the fight against COVID-19.   

As part of the Joint UN COVID-19 Response in Ukraine, IOM Ukraine is seeking USD 28,500,000 to help mitigate the immediate, short- and medium-term consequences. About two thirds of that total requested is for Ukraine’s eastern conflict area, where distribution of hygiene kits to medical facilities is to take place, along with repairing sanitation and water supply systems.  

The conflict in eastern Ukraine is entering its seventh year this month, with 3.4 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Of those, nearly two million live in the non-government-controlled areas. 

“In times of public health and economic crises, it is important not to leave behind those most vulnerable people who have been going through ordeals because of the protracted conflict, and to adequately respond to their exacerbated needs,” added IOM’s Nguyen.  

Other actions being considered by IOM include supporting Ukraine’s immigration, border and health authorities to respond to COVID-19. IOM also plans to provide psychosocial support to frontline practitioners as well as vulnerable migrants and children of Ukrainian labour migrants who are unable to return due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.  

Communication with communities, migrants and travellers to enable access to timely and correct information and prevent stigmatization of returnees is another priority.   

Experts estimate that there are approximately 3 million Ukrainian migrant workers abroad at any given time, majority in Europe with Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, among the EU Member States.  

Private remittances sent by migrant workers to Ukraine in 2019 amounted to USD 12 billion (over 10% of the national GDP). Families of migrant workers rely on remittance money to meet basic needs in nutrition and shelter, as well as education and health care.   

According to an IOM in-house assessment among former victims of trafficking conducted in mid-March, 60 per cent of beneficiaries lost their source of income either because their jobs fell under quarantine restrictions or because their clients were unable to pay for services/products. 
 
A majority of Ukrainian migrants abroad are employed in spheres where they would not be allowed to work during lockdown periods. Furthermore, when these businesses reopen it is likely that governments in those countries will preference their own citizens first. 

Watch video. 

For more information please contact Varvara Zhluktenko at IOM Ukraine, Tel: +38 044 568 50 15, +38 067 447 97 92, Email: [email protected]    

  • Ukrainian borders guards and medics meet a train carrying evacuees from the Baltic states back to Ukraine at Kyiv Central Station, where they carried out health checks and provided information on COVID-19 to passengers. Photo/video: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

  • Ukrainian borders guards and medics meet a train carrying evacuees from the Baltic states back to Ukraine at Kyiv Central Station, where they carried out health checks and provided information on COVID-19 to passengers. Photo/video: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

  • Ukrainian borders guards and medics meet a train carrying evacuees from the Baltic states back to Ukraine at Kyiv Central Station, where they carried out health checks and provided information on COVID-19 to passengers. Photo/video: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine