“Refugees from Ukraine: who are they, how many are there and how to return them?” Final report prepared by the Center for Economic Strategy with the support of the Foundation

In the final report of the project “Refugees from Ukraine: intentions to return, impact on the Ukrainian economy and recommendations for public policy”, we determined how many Ukrainians went abroad after the start of the full-scale invasion of Russia, who these people are, how many of them will return to Ukraine and what will be the economic consequences of not everyone returning.

For this, we used the data of two waves of sociological surveys conducted by the research agency Info Sapiens in November–December 2022 and April–May 2023 on the order of the Center for Economic Strategy, as well as information from open sources.

According to our calculations, as of the end of June 2023, 5.6–6.7 million Ukrainians are abroad due to the war. This is 0.3–0.5 million more than the estimates presented in the interim report of this note (as of the end of 2022, the number was 5.3–6.2 million). This was a consequence of strikes on Ukraine’s energy system in the winter of 2022–23, increased missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in May, and the detonation of the Kakhovskaya HPP in early June 2023.

The vast majority of refugees are women (the largest share of women aged 35-49 – 18%) and children.

According to the data of the European Statistical Service, as of May 2023, the largest share of Ukrainian refugees is in Germany (27%) and Poland (24%). A significant proportion of Ukrainian refugees lost much of their income after the full-scale invasion began.

In particular, the share of refugees who had enough for basic and expensive things decreased from 27.8% before the war to 6% as of May 2023. At the same time, the share of those who only had enough for food increased to 24.6% as of May 2023 – this is by 16.3 percentage points. more than before the war.

Further in the report, we considered the prospects for the return of Ukrainians from abroad. Having analyzed the international experience, we determined that the key factors in the return of refugees home after the end of the conflict are security; availability of housing to return to; the opportunity to earn a living; comparison of general living conditions at home and in the country of their stay.

According to the survey by Info Sapiens commissioned by the CES, the majority of Ukrainians (63%) who are currently abroad plan to return to Ukraine. However, we are not sure that all of them will actually return. First of all, the longer the war lasts, the more Ukrainians will adapt to life abroad. In addition, some Ukrainians (6.8%) believe that the prospects for their children are better abroad.

Also, people who left the war zone may have nowhere to return. So their return will depend on how quickly their regions will rebuild or whether they will be supported to move to other regions of Ukraine.

In addition, we performed a regression analysis of factors that correlate with the return of Ukrainian refugees. His results show that current employment status is an important factor. Foreign students are less likely to return (68% less likely than non-student respondents) and people who are not working but actively looking for work (45% less likely than those not working and not looking) .

This may be related to adaptation to life in the host country and future prospects. In addition, the effect of income is significant: people with high incomes before the war are more likely to return, while those with high incomes now are less likely.

With the help of cluster analysis, we distinguished four groups of refugees. The first group (25% of all refugees) are classic refugees: mostly middle-aged women with children who left for Poland. They are not very adapted to life abroad, as 41% of Ukrainians from this group have never been abroad before. In addition, they mostly lived in settlements that were outside the war zone, but suffered from rocket attacks (Central and Western Ukraine, as well as Odesa region). Accordingly, the main reason for going abroad was fear for one’s own safety.

The second group (29% of all refugees) are quasi-labor migrants who went abroad not only because of the war, but also for work. They are the most adapted to life abroad, as 25% of people in this group have already had experience working abroad. Also, for this group, external factors – both hostilities and the policy of the Ukrainian state – will have the least influence on their decision to return to Ukraine.

The third group (29% of all refugees) are professionals, people who mostly work in their specialty and are less willing to work outside of it. Also, before the war, they often had their own business. This group is more loyal to Ukraine and plans to return to Ukraine more often than others.

The fourth group (16% of all refugees) are people from the war zone, Ukrainians who suffered the most from the war. People from this segment are most ready to take steps to adapt abroad. At the same time, they also express the greatest willingness to return to another region of Ukraine, if it is impossible to return to their homeland. Their decision to return will depend on the conditions created for it.

According to our calculations, according to various scenarios, from 1.3 million to 3.3 million Ukrainians may remain abroad. This is 0.4-0.6 million more people than we estimated as of December 2022. Such a change is a consequence of the longer duration of hostilities and further adaptation of refugees to life abroad. The non-return of Ukrainians will have a significant impact on the Ukrainian economy, which could lose between 2.7% and 6.9% of its GDP each year.

At the end of the report, we offer recommendations that can encourage Ukrainian refugees to return to Ukraine. They consist of:

  • cooperation with EU countries regarding the return of Ukrainians after the war; rapid post-war reconstruction of the affected regions;
  • assistance to people from the affected and occupied regions during the reconstruction period; development of public-private partnership;
  • increasing resources for communication with compatriots abroad through diplomatic missions;
  • simplified reintegration of children to study in Ukrainian schools and admission of Ukrainian graduates of foreign schools to Ukrainian universities;
  • the opening of the EU labor market for Ukrainians after the war.

The study was carried out with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation



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