Before and After Russian Military Aggression in Ukraine

Politics - November 25, 2023

The issue of migration flows and asylum seekers in Europe has changed greatly as a result of the hostilities that have arisen between the Russian government and Ukraine. Indeed, as the territory of the conflict is very close to European borders, this has resulted in, among other things, a huge increase in refugee flows arriving from Ukraine. A situation that continues to have no end and still continues today since that distant February 24, 2022.

The humanitarian crisis and displacement resulting from this difficult situation meant that a great many Ukrainian citizens were no longer able to return (or remain) in their home countries.

The European Union has deployed its every means to help Ukrainians at this difficult time, so much so that as early as early March 2022 the European Commission activated temporary protection under Council Directive 2001/55/EC (Temporary Protection Directive)., a directive that is applied exactly when there is a risk that a mass influx of applicants could overwhelm the standard asylum system.

To better understand what happened, it should be remembered that therefore, thanks to this directive, those fleeing military aggression against Ukraine to date receive temporary protection once they arrive within the EU. In short, Ukrainians who have fled thus receive a residence permit and have access to labor markets, education, family relocation opportunities and social welfare. Concrete support then, which, more specifically, makes access to employment, housing, education, and social welfare possible for all those people who find themselves in difficulty as a result of the conflict.

The support from the European institutions is granted to all Ukrainian citizens residing in Ukraine before the 24th February 24 2022, to stateless persons and nationals of third countries other than Ukraine, who benefited from international protection or equivalent national protection in Ukraine before February 24, 2022, and to family members of persons in these two categories, even if they are not Ukrainian citizens.

In order to understand the disruption caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war within the territories of the European Union, it seems necessary to mention some significant data, making a comparison between data from the pre-war period and data referring to the period after February 24, 2022.

We analyze below some data provided by Eurostat (the Statistical Office of the European Union) and which in the current historical moment appear as most relevant in the analysis of this context.

Taking into consideration the period to the end of 2021, the estimate was 1.57 million Ukrainian citizens holding a residence permit in one of the EU member states. Of these, 1.2 million had residence permits with a duration of at least 12 months. According to the data, residence permits of Ukrainians who remained on the territory of the European Union albeit for a short period of time, usually for seasonal work or educational purposes, are also taken into account.

By the end of 2021, Ukrainian citizenship was the third most common non-EU citizenship by total number of residence permits in the EU. Ukrainians were thus the most numerous non-EU citizens on EU territory, after citizens from Morocco and Turkey.

Comparing the same data with those going back to 2013, we see an increase of as much as 85.7 percent (equal to + 724,000 residence permits in eight years) in the number of residence permits issued to Ukrainian citizens. This is a considerable increase and thus denotes a change in the internal situation in the country as well.

The EU member states that were already welcoming a largest number of Ukrainians before the hostilities are Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. Poland in particular saw a not insignificant increase of about 65 percent in the period 2013-2021.

The reasons why Ukrainians, before the war, decided to stay in the EU were many. The first factor concerned employment, whereby the majority of Ukrainian citizens went to Europe specifically to seek work and thus better economic conditions. Second factor, concerned family reasons. The percentages were 47 percent for employment reasons, and 26 percent for family reasons, respectively. Finally, a small percentage concerned education and the provision of refugee and subsidiary protection status, but these were very small shares.

Finally, the countries in which there were the most Ukrainian citizens with residence permits, again at the end of 2021, were those of Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic, while the countries that, in relation to the size of their populations, welcomed the most Ukrainian citizens with residence permits were the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia.

That being said, it is thus clear that the European Union was already a favored destination by the Ukrainian population well before the outbreak of war, which of course can also be traced both to geographical proximity and to the closeness of values and lifestyle that a large proportion of Ukrainians share with the European community.

However, it is incumbent to compare the data from 2021 with those after February 2022, in order to better understand the magnitude that this war has produced not only in the territories primarily involved, but also the impact within the EU itself, which has managed to show unique solidarity and support in this delicate situation.

And so, reading Eurostat data that refer to what happened up to April 2023, we can see that today nearly 4 million citizens have fled Ukraine as a consequence of the Russian invasion.

Among the main countries hosting temporary protection beneficiaries from Ukraine are Germany (at 28 percent), Poland (at 25 percent) and the Czech Republic (at 8 percent).

So today, it can be said that almost all (precisely 98%) of the beneficiaries of temporary protection are Ukrainian citizens. Adult women make up almost half (47 percent; the majority aged 35-64) of temporary protection beneficiaries in the EU. Children accounted for just over a third (35 percent), while adult men made up less than a fifth (18 percent) of the total.

Compared to the population of each EU member, the majority of temporary protection per thousand people in April 2023 was observed in the Czech Republic (31.6), Poland and Estonia (both 26.4), Lithuania (24.5), Bulgaria (22.7) and Latvia (21.2), while the corresponding figure at the EU level was 8.9.

At the conclusion of this analysis, it thus becomes evident how the increase in Ukrainian nationals accepted into Europe, and who, above all, enjoy temporary protection, have greatly increased over time, undergoing a sudden increase, for obvious reasons, in the period 2022-2023. An increase that is not only a consequence of a new global geopolitical arrangement, but also a consequence of the humanitarian, military, and political crisis that Ukraine has been forced to experience as a result of Russia’s violence.

The European Union immediately came to the rescue of the Ukrainian people, helping them both at home by sending arms, basic necessities and medicines, but also by taking in all those who had and still need them within the EU’s borders. The figures of this flood of refugees, however, are staggering and tell the story of millions of men, women, children, entire families forced to abandon their homes to escape almost certain death.

These reported data, however, must be a representation of hope for the near future. Hope for a victory over Russian violence, a victory over evil, a victory over unfair aggression. A hope that can see those 4 million people return to their own country, with a chance to rebuild it and make it stronger and free, no longer having to submit to any violent and tyrannical power from the outside.