Where are the displaced Ukrainians now?

By Jofelle P. Tesorio

This blog is the first of the series that the author is writing about the Ukrainian diaspora at the onset of the Russia’s war against Ukraine. This provides a general overview where the Ukrainians have ended up in Europe, particularly those who have landed in The Netherlands after fleeing Ukraine; how some of them receded in cities and others in peripheral areas, and the existing conditions at their housing locations. This output is collated based on information and publicly available documents and from interviews with Ukrainian refugees and the people involved with reception and integration in selected areas.

In this first blog, the following question is discussed: Displaced Ukrainians have been given a free will to go anywhere in the EU, and if we track their mobilities, what does this tell us?

Entering its second year, Russia’s war against Ukraine is not abating and more Ukrainians are staying in host countries rather than returning. Since February 24, 2022, UNHCR has recorded almost 6 million individual refugees from Ukraine across Europe and almost 25 million recorded crossings from Ukraine and back through border countries. These mobility flows show one of the most complex and enormous  movements of people from one country within a short span of time. More than 6.5 million people are estimated to be internally displaced.

Ukrainian women preparing dumplings during neighbors’ day in Groningen Province, the Netherlands. Photo: Jofelle Tesorio/Welcoming Spaces

Poland has received the greatest number of displaced Ukrainians based on applications under the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) – approximately 1.6 million refugees as of November 2023, followed by Germany (1,1 million), Czech Republic (574,550), United Kingdom (246,760 ), Spain (185,870 ), Italy (168,725), Bulgaria (171,805 ), Romania (147,695), Slovakia (131,745), Netherlands (136,470), Moldova (113,130 , Austria (106,215), France (69,495), Belgium (73,095), Switzerland (66,505), and Turkey (42,875), based on November 2023 data. According to UNHCR, Russia, has approximately 1.2 millionUkrainian refugees recorded. Interestingly, France Turkey and Switzerland in October 2022 had about 118,994; 95,874; and 80,324 registered Ukrainians respectively. By October 2023, the number of those who applied under the TPD, or similar temporary protection measures (for non-EU countries) has significantly decreased. One explanation would be because the TPD allows Ukrainian refugees to freely move to another country (for new opportunities, better wages, social and family network, and other factors) or as reports also show, many have returned home.

The infographic below shows the representative flows of Ukrainian refugees to (other) European countries, with Germany and Poland being the biggest host countries. For updated and real-time figures and infographics, follow the EU and Eurostat websites.

Infographic 1. European countries where Ukrainian refugees are hosted. Source: EU/Eurostat

In the context of migration within Europe before 2022, there had been a substantial number of Ukrainians living in Europe with resident permits (see the map below). Poland had 651,221 followed by Italy (230,336) and Czech Republic (193,547). In relation to the size of their population, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Slovakia were the EU-member states with the largest number of Ukrainian citizens holding valid residence permits at the end of 2021, according to Eurostat.

Infographic 2. Ukrainian citizens with valid resident permit in the EU before February 2022. Source: Eurostat

The data on the Ukrainian diaspora before 2022 by the European Commission revealed that 57.3% were given resident permits because of work, 20% because of family, 2.5% for education reasons, and only 0.6% because of protection status. The picture turned completely different by spring of 2022.

While most Ukrainian refugees had free-willingly chosen their destinations by virtue of the TPD, some have ended in places like a lottery because of shortage of accommodations in almost all cities and urban areas across Europe.

 Spontaneous flow (or not)

Did the displaced Ukrainians go to areas where Ukrainian communities and network were already in place, randomly, or consciously weighing level of opportunities, higher wages, benefits, and quality of life?

The assumption was that the new flow of Ukrainian refugees will follow the same route. However, the TPD, which has allowed a free flow of people fleeing from Ukraine and seek protection in any country of their choosing, has disrupted this pattern. In my research, I call this ‘spontaneous process of dispersion’ where in a very short amount of time millions of Ukrainians have ended up in different parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world where similar protection mechanisms are in place.

The flow of Ukrainian refugees suggests a few patterns that can be useful in tracking settlement practices, by circumstances or by choice. The choice of settlement was influenced both by the temporary protection status in the European countries and the willingness and capacities of the countries, cities, and municipalities. Also, the attitudes of locals and welcoming initiatives available played a role in the short-term and long term reception and settlement.

The statistics suggest that Ukrainian refugees often navigate to urban places (but not necessarily in capital cities) and to places where there is already an existing diaspora, like in the case of Italy where the four regions with the highest number of Ukrainian refugees are Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Campania, and Lazio. These are all areas with a significant presence of Ukrainian communities before 2022. In Campania, for example, they represent a large share of the total number of non-EU citizens living in the region.

In the Netherlands, before 2022, people of Ukrainian origin were mostly found in and around Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, and other cities like Eindhoven, Groningen, Maastricht and Enschede. Most of these cities already had a Ukrainian diaspora.

While it is yet premature to draw conclusions, statistics do show that urban areas are often attractive because of opportunities, and provide important networks, and therefore Ukrainian refugees flock to that direction.

On the other hand, it is also interesting to see the presence of Ukrainian refugees in smaller villages and places that are experiencing depopulation like Lomza in Poland and Het Hogeland and Pekela in the Netherlands. Most Ukrainians who ended up  in smaller cities or villages do not have a network. In these places , the Ukrainian diaspora is small or was even non-existent before 2022.

Outflows of Ukrainian refugees from Poland, France, Sweden and Czech Republic are also noticeable. Statistics show that the number of registered Ukrainians in these countries has decreased compared last year. The total picture where the Ukrainians from these countries moved or whether they have come back to Ukraine and for what reasons is worth investigating.

On the other hand, Germany has recorded an uptick in registration. The Netherlands has also recorded an increase, from approximately 85,000 in November 2022, it is now approximately at 136,000.

Lastly, the distribution of Ukrainian refugees in Europe is lopsided. Germany has been echoing the sentiments of countries like Poland, Czech Republic, and other countries bordering Ukraine – Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova – say they cannot longer cope with the wave of Ukrainian refugees. Non-border countries like Italy and Spain have less than 200,000 each, but had almost the same number of Ukrainian diaspora before 2022. Across Europe, there are both local and national discussions about equitable allocation of Ukrainians as a shared burden and responsibility. This is something to follow.

For the next blog, while numbers have shown that there is a sort of stabilisation in mobility flows of Ukrainians, some countries witness a decrease, either because Ukrainians moved to other countries or went back to Ukraine. Based on initial empirical data collected within the Welcoming Spaces and other research, job opportunities, housing situation, education for children, language, and social benefits are some factors that make Ukrainians stay, move elsewhere or go back to Ukraine.  I will look at the early job uptake for Ukrainians and how this affects their mobilities.