After years of displacement aggravated by COVID-19, internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine remain in need of housing solutions and predictable income
In 2021, there are almost 1.5 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine, with approximately 745,000 IDPs residing more permanently in the Government-controlled areas (GCA) of Ukraine, while the rest – in the non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA). Aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, the situation is especially challenging for at least 340,000 IDPs residing in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts and elsewhere in GCA, who also require humanitarian assistance.
IDPs residing in GCA often face similar challenges regardless of their place of displacement, some of which have improved over time, while others have become more acute due to COVID-19. These challenges include higher unemployment rates compared with people in host communities and across the country, physical and bureaucratic hurdles to access social and administrative services, lack of access to adequate housing and livelihood opportunities, including predictable income. Lack of access to housing and predictable income are the main reasons many, especially the elderly, are forced to return to the NGCA while preserving their IDP status to be able to receive pensions and other social payments in GCA.
Economic implications of COVID-19
According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), the economic situation of vulnerable IDPs from eastern Ukraine remained dire, with half of the people surveyed during the first quarter of 2021 noting that they have “enough money only for food” or they have “to limit even food expenses”. The situation is reported to be worse among elderly IDPs (aged 60 and above) and people with disabilities, with 67 per cent and 69 per cent of respondents, respectively, reporting to be in a similarly complicated situation.
In March 2021, the average monthly income per IDP household member of UAH3,651 (US$137) remained 14 per cent lower than subsistence level  (UAH4,224 or $159) and some 40 per cent less compared with the average income per household member across the country (UAH6,267 or $235 as of December 2020). Salary and government support for IDPs remained the largest source of income (60 and 54 per cent, respectively), with female-headed households with children, the elderly and families with a member with a disability reporting to be more reliant on government support.
Priority expenses for IDPs stayed consistent with the previous assessment round. The majority of IDPs prioritized purchasing food (87 per cent of respondents), paying utility bills (78 per cent) and housing rent (57 per cent). For IDPs residing in rural areas, the expense of heating fuel during winter months was an additional priority (47 per cent). Respondents also noted that they observed a significant increase in price of electricity (18 per cent) and other utility costs (16 per cent). Overall, the increase in spending on utilities and the lack of opportunities to return to the place of habitual residence were reported to be the most pressing concerns for 13 per cent and 8 per cent of surveyed IDPs, accordingly.
On a positive note, despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market, the share of employed IDPs aged 20–64 slightly increased (60 per cent) compared with 2020 (around 55 per cent), but was still lower than the employment rate of the general population in the same age group (65 per cent).
Other impacts of COVID-19
Different groups of IDPs continue to encounter varying challenges in host communities. For female-headed households with children, unemployment remains a primary issue, while for households with people with disabilities, access to health-care services and medication is a major concern. People aged 60 and above were primarily preoccupied with the lack of opportunities to return to their permanent place of residence in the conflict-affected region. The COVID-19 pandemic has put additional strain on the psychological state of IDPs, whose mental health is already affected by conflict-related trauma and bereavement. Most of the respondents were worried about their health and the health and safety of their close ones (69 and 73 per cent, respectively). Between December 2020 and March 2021, over 50 per cent became more concerned about their financial situation and the possibility to afford necessary food and medicines. As explained by a 33-year-old IDP who lost her job in a private pre-school after the lockdown started, “I feel like I have been plagued with a constant fear that my family would have nothing to live on if my husband loses his job too.”
Due to the limitations on the freedom of movement across the “contact line”, IDPs who have close family members residing in NGCA were most concerned about the broken family connections (33 per cent) and their inability to help relatives and friends still living there (29 per cent).
Integration and housing solutions for IDPs
After over seven years since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, 89 per cent of surveyed IDPs report that they feel that they have been able to successfully integrate to some degree into their host communities. For most respondents, the main preconditions for successful integration were housing and regular income. At the same time, compared with previous assessment rounds, respondents put more value in having “family and friends in the same place”.
Among all existing concerns, long-term and permanent housing solutions remain the priority for IDPs. The majority of IDPs spend a high proportion of their income on rent, which leaves them with a bare minimum to cover their other basic needs. At the same time, available housing solutions are not available at the level required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable IDPs. The affordable housing programme, which envisages the 50/50 split of the housing cost between the state and an IDP household, and various preferential mortgage schemes are in the highest demand among IDPs.  Yet, the amount of available funding — about UAH340 million (US$12.8 million) envisaged in the 2021 national budget and EUR25.5 million under the KfW agreement (about $30 million) — is far below the level required to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people in long-term housing. According to a market analysis done by an Association of Real Estate Professionals, depending on the region, apartments worth $30,000 to $50,000 are in the highest demand in the secondary market in Ukraine. Therefore, the allocated 2021 financing for housing programmes would provide long-term solutions for only several thousand IDP families. 
After years of displacement, the most vulnerable IDPs continue to rely on humanitarian assistance and need sustainable housing solutions and livelihood opportunities. More specifically, IDP households with elderly members or members with disabilities require assistance with improving their access to and affordability of health-care services, including mental health support. In addition, IDPs living in rural areas require support with covering the cost of heating fuel and utility expenses, primarily heating and electricity, as tariffs and prices continue to increase disproportionally to salaries, pension and other social payments. The gradual reopening of the “contact line” is another precondition for improving the situation of conflict-affected IDPs living in GCA with homes, family and friends residing in NGCA. Restoring social connections will not only help IDPs improve their psychological state but also help mend ties between the communities on both sides of the “contact line”, contributing to reconciliation and social reintegration.
 calculated by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine
 According to the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, out of 1.45 million IDPs registered by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine as of September 2020, estimated 745,000 IDPs live permanently in GCA.