Ukraine: European exile

Ukraine: European exile

Mon, 28/10/2019 - 17:42


Refuge. Even though it is a European country, there were 2,010 international protection applications from people from Ukraine last year.

Eastern Ukraine has been at war for over five years. It’s the war which is nearest to us, in a country with an associative agreement with the European Union. Not that this would appear to hold a solution, as exiles continue to arrive in the Spanish state and in 2017 and 2018 accounted for the fourth and sixth nationalities in terms of the volume of people arriving. Those who come here request international protection as victims of war and threats from one of the two warring sides in the conflict. The area which borders Russia, Donbass, which includes the two self-proclaimed popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, is the territory where power is being disputed between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian population want the area to become part of Russia, while the Ukrainian population do not wish to lose an important part of their country.

Deaths, threats and repression, as we have seen with the recent prison sentence for a journalist, explain why 2,010 people from Ukraine came to our country in 2018, many of them reaching Barcelona. This is not a particularly homogenous collective and, according to a report by the CEAR, “the main victims in the conflict are women, whose asylum requests in Spain allege they have suffered gender violence”.

Lulina had never taken either of the two sides. Even so, she had to flee because of threats.

Collateral effects of the conflict

This is not the case with Lulina Synolytsia, a Ukrainian woman we spoke to about the situation in her country and the reasons which brought her to Barcelona. She fled after receiving threats from pro-Russian groups because of a film she made. It was actually a work of fiction, filmed in one of the territories in conflict, Kharviv, and not about the current conflict but World War II. According to those in favour of the independence of Ukraine from the Donbass territories, the film clearly took a stance against the Russian nation. Lulina was the assistant art director and although she had never taken either of the two sides, she herself shares both origins, she and her colleagues ended up having to hide upon their return to Kiev as the threats and calls from pro-Russians continued. According to Lulina, what got her down the most was that she wasn’t contracted for film sets by other producers out of fear of being boycotted themselves.

Suffering from depression and the fear of physical attacks, Lulina ended up fleeing. Now she is one of the 2,010 Ukrainians seeking international protection in Span and although she had friends in Barcelona, she had to go to Burgos, where she could access the support measures offered by the international protection programme run by the state. Finally, she managed to return to Barcelona as she has ties here (friends) and is now on the programme run by Bayt al-Thaqafa, an accredited entity forming part of the Red Acoge. She is studying Spanish and Catalan and receiving social and psychological support. She is working as a waitress too, but once she has a good enough level of Spanish or Catalan she is set on finding work with a film producer.

While these 70 cases were granted refugee status, a further 2,625 Ukrainian applications were rejected, the highest figure of all

Of European origin: help or hindrance for gaining refugee status?

According to the figures from the CEAR report, Ukrainians were the second most numerous nationality to gain refugee status in 2018, but if we look at the overall figures we see we are only talking about 70 people. In fact, while these 70 cases were granted refugee status, a further 2,625 other Ukrainian applications were rejected, the highest figure of all. Asked about the reasons for this huge quantity of rejections, ACCEM’s Laura Moreno, also coordinator of the legal service for asylum seekers and refugees run by the SAIER, explains: “It’s difficult to determine the reasons for rejection, as it depends on the individual history of each applicant. However, the fact the conflict is in a specific zone and there are possibilities to flee within the same country is a determining factor”. It’s true that the conflict is taking place in one part of the country, and the Ukrainian government, despite being one of the most corrupt in Europe, is not a dictatorship. But as we can see from Lulina’s experience, no shelter is offered for the victims of the conflict.

Moreno also adds that “at the same time, it’s worth noting that not all applications for international protection from Ukrainians make reference to the conflict. There are women who flee because they’re maltreated and can’t get protection, for instance”.

In any event, the election of the independent candidate Volodímir Zelensky as the president of Ukraine in the general election in May this year offers a window of hope both in terms of a solution for the conflict in the same country and for the rest of the causes behind the exile of Ukrainians. The figures in the years to come will tell.