Damaged buildings in the residential area of Saltivskyi, a city near Kharvi | Photo: UNHCR/Colin Delfosse
Damaged buildings in the residential area of Saltivskyi, a city near Kharvi | Photo: UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

One year after the Russian invasion, a UN survey of Ukrainian refugees shows most want to return home. But worries about the ongoing conflict mean few believe they will be able to any time soon.

Over 13 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine; of these nearly 8 million are refugees who fled to Europe, while approximately 5 million are internally displaced.

Exactly one year after the start of the war, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shared some of the main findings of two new reports related to the Ukrainian refugees' intentions to return to their country.

What emerges is that, at present, the prospects for Ukrainian refugees of returning in the immediate future are clouded by the incessant hostilities, the absence of security and the level of destruction in their regions of origin.

77% of refugees want to return home

A series of three UNHCR reports titled Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine is the result of thousands of interviews with people uprooted by the war. The findings of the two most recent reports -- one focused on refugees and the other on internally displaced persons -- show that the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons, 77% and 79% respectively, want to return home, but only 12% of them foresee being able to do so in the three months following the interview.

Refugees perceived the main obstacles to returning home as being insecurity in their areas of origin and the lack of basic services, which have been heavily impacted by the war.

For those who had been internally displaced, access to adequate housing was the second biggest obstacle to the possibility of returning to sustainable conditions. Most of the refugees who expressed an intention to return home were elderly people who had been separated from the rest of the family who stayed behind in Ukraine, or individuals who had faced problems related to inclusion in the countries hosting them.

Improved situation for refugees in hosting countries

With regard to the situation of refugees in hosting countries, the UNHCR highlights that improvements were seen as necessary.

The latest report shows that 45% of refugees were hosted in rented homes, an increase of 37% compared with the previous round of intentions surveys carried out last September. The number of people in work also increased to 46% compared to 37% registered previously.

However, the report underscores the fact that, despite a decrease in the proportion of refugees who rely on social protection or cash aid, many people were unemployed or had salaries that were insufficient to cover basic needs.

Recommendations and call for additional funds

The UNHCR proposes a series of recommendations: it is of fundamental importance to ensure refugees receive constant assistance in order for them to make decisions in a free and conscious way about their future, but it is also important that the hosting countries and local communities are open to support them and provide refugees with access to their rights.

Supporting displaced people within Ukraine represents another high priority. Those who return voluntarily should be supported through a set of programs in the humanitarian, recovery, development and private sectors.

The UNHCR has also launched another report on Ukraine outlining a response plan and the financial needs for 2023. The necessary funds, according to the UN agency, total over $1.1 billion, of which $602.5 million are earmarked for the internal situation within Ukraine and $517 million for the countries hosting refugees in Europe.


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