Refugees fleeing Ukraine are being given a lot of attention, and rightfully so. As of March 9th, over two million Ukrainians have left their home country to find safety and stability abroad, and for the most part, the world is responding with open arms. Thousands of people from all over Europe are housing Ukrainan refugees, many European businesses are offering free and discounted products and services, and the “Accommodation, Help, and Shelter for Ukraine” Facebook group is already over 37,000 members.
What I’ve seen in Czechia tells the same story. For Ukrainians, all public transportation is free, phone plans are at a discount, websites to help refugees find jobs are up and running, I’ve gotten pro-bono advice from an immigration lawyer, my partner’s doctor’s appointment was free, and countless people have been patient and understanding as my partner and I go through the process of establishing life in a new country after being displaced.
An incredible amount of humanity is being shown, and it has been awesome to witness.
However, much less focus is being given to IDPs, also known as internally displaced people. There is a crucial difference between refugees and IDPs: Refugees are people who leave their home country due war, human rights abuses and political violence, while IDPs are displaced within their home country. In the Ukraine context, IDPs are people who have left their home but are still living in Ukraine. For example, if a family of four leaves Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine due to the war and settles down in Uzhhorod in western Ukraine, those people are not refugees, but rather IDPs.
UNHCR estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced inside of Ukraine. Seeing how the majority of the destruction and crimes against humanity have been in the eastern and central regions of Ukraine, IDPs are heading west. Western regions like Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Zakarpattia have been relatively safe from the terror that communities in the east have been facing, although both Lviv and Ivano haven’t escaped the attacks completely.
As one can imagine, a huge problem has arisen – cities in western Ukraine are desperately lacking the resources to house millions of IDPs from central and eastern Ukraine.
Take Uzhhorod for example. It’s the capital of the Zakarpattia region, which borders the NATO countries of Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Thus far, Zakarpattia is one of the only regions that has been completely safe from Russian attacks, so many people are choosing to move to this enclave in the far west. The problem is, Uzhhorod is the smallest region capital in all of Ukraine, with a population of only 130,000. Mukachevo, the second biggest town in Zakarpattia, has less than 90,000 people. The combined population of these two cities are less than a tenth the size of Kyiv’s population, and less than a fifth the size of Kharkiv’s.
On the first day of the violence my friend drove to Uzhhorod, which is where I lived for two years. She asked me if I knew any realtors, and I was happy to send her a few contacts. After a few hours, she was finally able to find one apartment for her and the nine other people who followed her and her boyfriend to Uzhhorod. Now, ten people are staying in an apartment that is only meant for a few. It’s driving her crazy, although she considers herself lucky that she was able to find an apartment at all.
That was on the first day of the war. Since then she has tried for to find another place and has enough money to do so, but it’s not an issue of cash. It’s an issue of space, and there’s almost none left. Many of my friends and students in Ukraine are facing the same problem. I try to help by sending them places where other IDPs are sheltering, but they all tell me the same thing: “That’s only temporary.” These people aren’t looking to stay for a few days on their way to Poland. They are looking to rent and settle down, but are simply unable to.
The war has only been going on for two weeks, but for many IDPs it’s virtually impossible to find a place to live long-term. With more time, this problem is only going to get worse. Just imagine if the Russians make it to Dnipro in the east (almost a million people), Odessa in the south, (almost a million people), or even Kyiv (almost three million people). This issue, which is already straining the resources of these western cities, will become yet another humanitarian disaster in Ukraine. Yet no one seems to be talking about it.
While the amount of humanity that is being shown towards refugees merits every positive adjective available, we shouldn’t forget about IDPs and the struggles that they are going through. Overcoming this challenge is immense, but you can help by donating to organizations who are on the ground in Ukraine providing humanitarian aid, like Project Hope and the Help Ukraine Center (link to donate below).
However, for the people who ran from violence and who are looking to resettle for the long-haul, this lack of long-term housing feels like an impossible problem to figure out. These cities can’t just build hundreds of apartment complexes overnight, but that is what’s needed for the thousands of people who are arriving day after day. What will happen when hundreds of thousands or even millions more people relocate within Ukraine? Sadly, we are soon going to find out.
Donate to Project Hope: https://www.projecthope.org/crisis-in-ukraine-how-to-help/03/2022/
Donate to Help Ukraine Center: https://helpukraine.center/#donate
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