Ukrainians Who Fled Putin Face New Pandemic Realities
The healthcare concerns and economic hardships of the coronavirus crisis have been particularly challenging for Ukraine’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) according to the Atlantic Council. Living in relatively unfamiliar surroundings and typically far from extended networks of friends and family, IDPs have faced upheaval for a second time in a matter of years.
When the coronavirus crisis reached Ukraine in early 2020, the country was already struggling to cope with the fallout from an undeclared war with Russia that was then entering its seventh year. Beginning in February 2014, Russian aggression has led to the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and around half of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of the country.
Since 2014, the Russian occupation has forced millions to flee their homes in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. This has created a population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Ukraine that is thought to number around 1.4 million people. Largely unseen by the outside world, the members of this vast IDP community have had to rebuild their lives elsewhere in Ukraine, often with little more than the personal possessions they were able to carry with them.
For forty-three-year-old Khalil Khalilov, the coronavirus lockdown has proven an opportunity to develop his restaurant business. Crimean Tatar Khalil left Russian-occupied Crimea for Lviv following the 2014 takeover and established a small restaurant in the city. He began working with a number of existing food delivery services, but found the available partnership options unprofitable. When quarantine measures were introduced in March 2020, he finally decided the time was right to launch his own tailored restaurant delivery service.
The process of establishing an efficient delivery service is still ongoing, but he already believes it was the right move given the future prospects for the restaurant industry. “The current precautions will remain for a long time,” he says. “I think people are unlikely to go back to dining in restaurants so frequently or eating with reusable plates and cutlery.” Instead, he is hopeful that as people gradually return to work, office staff will start ordering more and more food deliveries.
Unlike many business owners, Khalil has not been forced to dismiss any of his employees. On the contrary, he says he’s actually expanded his team by hiring an additional person to handle deliveries. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support he has received. In response to the coronavirus crisis, Khalil’s landlord reduced the rent for his restaurant by 50%, and he was lucky to get the same discount on his apartment. He says this spirit of solidarity has also been evident within the Crimean Tatar community, with members in Lviv and Kyiv growing closer during the crisis and communicating more often.
Thirty-four-year-old IDP Anna Postolova lost her job in Kyiv on March 12 as coronavirus lockdown conditions were introduced in the Ukrainian capital. It was a sudden blow after an extended period of relative stability. Anna had fled her home in Luhansk during the early months of the war with Russia in 2014. She initially attempted to settle in west Ukrainian city Ternopil before later moving on to Kyiv.
For the past three years, she had been employed by a hotel booking company, but with the hotel business on hold due to the pandemic, Anna was told to take indefinite unpaid leave. “As I rely entirely on my monthly salary for my rent and living expenses, I had to start looking for a new job immediately,” she says. Anna was able to find a new position relatively quickly. Her new salary is significantly lower than her previous job and the workload is greater, but she considers herself to be very lucky.