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Lenin zhil, Lenin zhiv, Lenin budet zhit. Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall always live.

I first heard this slogan while studying at the Pushkin Institute of the Russian language in Moscow in the 1980s. At the time, I thought it was amusing. But for Ukraine and especially for its internally displaced persons (IDPs), the phrase is not funny.

In April 2015, after Russia took over Crimea and the subsequent conflict fueled by Russia in the Donbas region ensued, the Ukrainian parliament, Rada, passed a series of laws to bring about “decommunization of the country.” The goal was to sever historical ties with the Soviet Union occupation and remove communist symbols from the country. The process included ending Soviet-style commemorations of World War II, opening KGB archives, rehabilitating Ukrainian nationalists vilified by the Soviet regime, renaming all Soviet-named places and tearing down communist monuments. The deadline for doing so was November of 2015.

In some places, such as the city of Dnipropetrovsk, progress on the decommunization front has been slower than in others. Most of the 5,500 or communist monuments left standing in Ukraine at the time of independence in 1991 have been taken down. However, the main drag in Dnipropetrovsk is still Marx Prospect, near Lenin Street, and the city itself is (still) named for Grigory Petrovsky. The head of the NKVD, the state security service that preceded the KGB, Petrovksy played a significant role in suppressing Ukrainian nationalism with a reign of terror starting with his service to Lenin.

In early April 2016, I traveled to Ukraine to assess the work of HIAS, the refugee agency for which I work, and the current state of the internally displaced. A manager of our Ukrainian IDP project, known as the “Right to Protection,” told me in Dnipropetrovsk, that the removal of statues and the renaming of streets is merely superficial. The government needs to go much deeper to truly decommunize the country and reverse unnecessary laws that continue to torment the population, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, the IDPs who have fled eastern Ukraine.

A far more painful remnant of communism than statues and street signs is the propiska, or internal passport, which was introduced by the czar before the Russian Revolution, but was subsequently perfected as a method of control by the Soviets. It remains in effect to this day.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has displaced more than 1.6 million people from their homes. These are people who are still registered, as evidenced on their propiska, to live in towns in the eastern part of the country which are now either “non-government controlled areas,” or areas in the conflict zone.

The reality is that IDPs in Ukraine are both vulnerable and voiceless. As a result of the propiska system, no matter where they live, IDPs cannot vote in local or regional elections nor for regional representation in Parliament. They can only vote where it says they can vote on their propiska, where there is no voting at all. Such disenfranchisement is a clear violation of human rights, as reflected in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement applied by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Internal Displacement.

IDPs on a fixed income – retirees – cannot collect their pensions if they continue to live in a non-government controlled area, as the Ukrainian government considers fulfilling this responsibility as pumping money into the (Russian-occupied) economy. To receive the pension which he or she worked all their lives to earn, a person registered to live in a non-government controlled area must move to territory that is under the control of Ukraine. Of course, this policy has encouraged additional displacement over and above those IDPs who fled danger and destruction.

The Ukrainian government, however, suspicious that some pensioners who claim to live in government-controlled areas are actually still living in (separatist-controlled zones), recently cut off hundreds of thousands of IDP retirees from their pensions without any semblance of due process. They also cut off IDP social assistance payments to hundreds of thousands of IDPs, based on suspicion about their addresses. But with the propiska system still in place, it is a serious challenge for an IDP to prove that he or she has a new address. Landlords, family members, friends and good-hearted people who take IDPs into their homes seldom cooperate in allowing the IDP to register at his or her address, as they fear doing so could impact their taxes, their utility bills (usually calculated not by meter, but by the number of occupants), and even their property rights to the residence.

As the census is used in the U.S. to apportion legislative districts as well as government funds for education and other government services, the propiska system is used for this purpose in Ukraine. If an IDP does not live at the address on his propiska, as far as the government is concerned, he or she does not live at all. IDPs do not vote, and they are not counted for educational or social services either. They are 1.6 million ghosts, haunted by the Soviet propiska policy. Lenin’s body is in a mausoleum in Moscow, and most of his bronze likenesses may be gone, but Lenin lives and, until the Ukrainian government destroys the legacy of the propiska, he shall continue to live. And torment IDPs.

Mark Hetfield is CEO of HIAS, a global Jewish organization for refugees that operates in Ukraine.




The event was initiated by activists of the community of internally displaced persons living in Huliaipole, and supported by the project “Advocacy and legal assistance to internally displaced population in Ukraine” implemented by DRC in partnership with “Right to protection” and supported by the UNHCR.

– Our project covered 20 regions of Ukraine, — says Victoria Salomatina, head of the regional office of the project “Advocacy and legal assistance to internally displaced population in Ukraine”. -Among the priority problems of IDP’s in need of heaters, warm clothing and shoes. The project is the integration of the IDP into local communities, in the Zaporozhye region in participation of 678 persons.

IDP, people living in remote areas, often have difficulty with socialization. For example, in Huliaipole there are more than 350 IDP women. Many of them are faced with the lack of communication, to ensure that women have the opportunity to communicate, to consult, in Huliaipole opened a circle of needlework.

The initiator of the establishment of the club is Lyudmila Goloborodko. She explains:

— For the women, who were forced to leave their homes as a result of military conflict, it is very important to have htheir own area. Here we can come together to share experiences in needlework and chat over a cup of tea.

Now women of IDP will be able to come together not only to create beautiful pieces of jewelry, toys and paintings, but also for the joint solution of actual problems.

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Girls, who are children of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from eastern Ukraine, react as they take part in International Children’s Day celebrations at a volunteer center in Kyiv, Ukraine June 1, 2015. Internal displacement is a relatively new phenomenon for Ukraine, and the problem may only worsen with local elections this fall. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Ukraine officially has 1,381,953 internally displaced persons (IDPs), the country’s Ministry of Social Policy (MoSP) reported July 10. Overall, more than 2.3 million Ukrainians—including IDPs and those seeking refuge abroad—have been uprooted by conflict since March 2014.

Yet the actual number of IDPs remains unknown and is likely to be higher, since the official figure includes neither displaced people living in the non-government controlled area (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk, nor IDPs whose registrations have been cancelled.

In fact, internal displacement is a relatively new phenomenon for Ukraine. Until fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine more than a year ago, the country’s experience with forced migration had been limited to relatively small numbers. Any government faced with such a rapid and large-scale displacement would be hard-pressed to respond quickly and effectively. Unfortunately, experience suggests that displacement is likely to become a long-term problem.

According to the All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation’s Right to Protection monitoring teams, people are in no rush to register as IDPs. In some cases, IDPs fear sharing their personal data to government officials. Others are young men who worry about being drafted into the military, while still others are being refused registration because their IDs have been lost, forgotten at home or destroyed at checkpoints.

The number of IDPs increases as hostilities intensify. However, a new Ukrainian security policy makes fleeing war zones difficult. In February 2015, the Anti-Terrorist Centre of Ukraine’s State Security Service introduced special passes to cross the border into the Donbas. Obtaining such a pass can take up to three months, and the complicated procedure to get one creates fertile opportunities for corrupt officials. But the government says security risks justify the severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Meanwhile, people try to bypass the checkpoints either through fields and forests where they risk being injured by landmines, or by illegally crossing through Russian territory, which could result in fines.

On May 31, a local TV station reported that a 55-year-old man and his 14-year-old son were blown up by a land mine while attempting to evade a checkpoint at the entrance to Stanitsa Luganska in Luhansk oblast. An older son escaped unharmed. Data on how many people are killed or injured by landmines is not available.

So far, overseas donors have pledged or disbursed $111 million to help Ukraine tackle IDPs’ most urgent needs. Yet that money has gone mainly for individual financial assistance, rent payments, the purchase of food, shoes and clothing and other immediate needs. Long-term solutions—shelter, employment, education and psychological counseling—are lacking.

Demobilized men require special state assistance. Officially, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) afflicts only 35 percent of troops returning from anti-terrorist operations, but military psychologists say privately that PTSD may affect up to 90 percent of these men. Without treatment, former soldiers struggle to reintegrate into society and re-establish relationships with family members. And PTSD sufferers who have been kidnapped or tortured while serving in NGCAs can become ticking time bombs if neglected. This often leads to aggressive behavior, gender-based violence, child abuse, and other unhappy consequences.

Many IDPs who fled Crimea or the conflict zones of eastern Ukraine cannot register for unemployment benefits because they did not properly terminate work relationships with previous employers. Some, seeing no other option, go back and bring their labor books from NGCAs to government-controlled areas, but most prefer to live on the social payments they receive as IDPs rather than return to that hell again.

According to ACF’s Right to Protection monitoring teams, most working-age IDPs who have settled in the Zaporizhzhya region are ex-miners whose former salaries were considerably higher than the average salary local employers can generally offer. Thus, registered as unemployed such IDPs receive compensation almost equal to the amount they would be offered if employed.

The clear majority of IDPs rent apartments, while others live with host families and 10 percent remain in community centers. Despite the initial sympathy shown toward IDPs by Ukrainians not living in conflict zones, relations between the two groups remain uneasy. The Ukrainian media’s habit of highlighting bad news about people displaced by the war has promoted a negative image of IDPs in general. Yet civil society remains crucial in helping people flee the conflict area, and it should be a government priority to raise awareness in the official media about IDPs and Ukraine’s evolving humanitarian crisis.

The problem may only worsen with local elections this fall. On July 14, Ukraine’s Parliament approved a law that excludes IDPs from participating in local elections – effectively barring them from forming local councils and electing village and city mayors. This indirectly leaves Ukraine’s displaced population without a voice in the process of enacting policies related to IDPs. The law also hampers their interaction with host communities, angering NGOs, lawmakers and others who work with IDPs—and may only lead to further social tension.

Given these factors, the Kyiv government must establish a long-term policy on all key issues related to IDPs: registration, social assistance, documentation, employment, education, and integration into host communities. It should also launch an aggressive media campaign to reverse the negative image of IDPs now prevalent in Ukrainian society. One suggestion is to cover positive experiences of IDPs integrating into host communities and highlight the human side of displacement rather than political issues. Finally, as civil society gains influence, it can also help the government find durable solutions for Ukraine’s growing population of IDPs.

Kateryna Moroz is Program Coordinator at HIAS Ukraine (“Right to Protection”). Olena Vynogradova is the organization’s Legal Analyst.