How Millions of Displaced Ukrainians Are Straining Ukraine’s Economy

Even by Europes’ record-breaking death toll from fighting, the current conflict in eastern Ukraine is unfolding at lightning speed. In the first nine months of 2017, more than 2 million people have left their homes in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, according to United Nations estimates. Officials say there could be as many as 6 million affected by the conflict by the spring of 2018, which could make it Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Balkan wars.

Last year, by contrast, the total annual death toll was about 800,000. UN officials warn that the current crisis is costing Ukraine dearly.

“If there’s one thing that Ukraine has learned, it’s that war tears holes in economic sectors: agriculture, the hryvnia, even banks,” said Natalia Azarova, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The crisis has sucked up the resources of every level of government in Kiev, even those responsible for guarding the peace. Ukrainian soldiers are in the frontline battle; police work to try to keep order in the aftermath. Yanukovych’s supporters, meanwhile, began to prey on the traumatized refugees in eastern Ukraine, and they have terrorized other displaced Ukrainians who may be in the future ringleaders of the Russian-backed insurgency.

Ukraine now needs external help to help restore basic services to more than a million people who have been driven to move elsewhere in the country, depriving Kiev of revenue that helps it cover the growing costs of the border operation.

“The first year we created 100 new shelters to house displaced people,” the president of Ukraine’s State Land Transit Service, Sevyyy Kortzhynsky, told The New York Times. But those shelters are already crowded and houses just don’t fit many more refugees.

“The decisions that we took are worth having now,” she said. “The alternative would be that they would return home one day, anyway.”

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