Most Ukrainians returned home from the EU despite the ongoing war. Some of the factors behind the return of our compatriots are objective, but others are motivated by psychological and moral and value-based reasons.
On April 16, 2022, for the first time since the beginning of the full-scale war, there was a preference for entry over exit from Ukraine. By the second month of hostilities, 1 million 60 thousand people had returned to Ukraine. Ukrainians. Part of the reason was the Easter holidays, which is traditionally a significant event for Ukrainian families to celebrate together.
And in September 2022, six months after the Russian invasion, about 5 million of the 8 million Ukrainians who had arrived in the European Union returned to Ukraine. In this regard, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “This shows the most important thing. Of course, we want to give our Ukrainian friends in need as much support as possible. But we also know that they want to come home again, to build Ukraine and turn it into a prosperous country.” The International Organization for Migration has also recorded almost 4.5 million Ukrainians who have returned home after being displaced. The most significant rates of returns were recorded in the north of the country and in Kyiv. After these territories were returned to Ukrainian control, citizens began to return to large cities and suburbs.
Even then it became clear that the most critical period of the war was over. Ukraine will not fall and will stand, Kyiv will not be captured, and the fighting has been localized in the east and south. The Slobozhansky counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which led to the liberation of almost all but a few percent of the Kharkiv region, convinced many Ukrainians abroad that Ukraine was capable of regaining its land. The liberation of Kherson was a very important factor in returning home, but in the same month, the Russians began to attack the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and blackouts began in Ukraine.
At the same time, many Ukrainians abroad faced numerous difficulties and chose to return home despite the ongoing war. For many Ukrainians, it suddenly became clear that many aspects of European standards, such as school education, health care, and public services, are in some ways even inferior to those in Ukraine. Despite the persistent myth of the EU countries as “welfare states,” our compatriots have found that many public and even private corporate services in Ukraine are provided faster and better than in some European countries. Ukrainians were surprised to realize that we are indeed at the level of a good Central European country, and not a country that is only reaching the European level, as was commonly believed.
In Ukraine, you can get to a doctor’s appointment, buy medicines, enroll your child in school, and get a certificate from a government agency faster. Of course, the level of medical equipment in the West differs from the hospital in a Ukrainian district center, but it also differs in terms of its outrageous price. In addition, most patients are not concerned with complex technological operations, but rather with the most common simple health problems that can be solved in Ukraine after a single visit to a doctor and ordering the necessary medications from a pharmacy. But this is not so fast and easy in Europe.
In many European countries, there is nothing like Ukraine’s Diia, and for many foreign citizens, the state does not exist in a smartphone, but in a bureaucratic queue. Bureaucratic procedures are very long and far from digitalized. Even the speed and convenience of money transfers, delivery services, the Internet, store hours, and the quality of beauty services are rated better in Ukraine than in the EU.
Of course, many sectors of the economy and public services in the EU are more developed than in Ukraine, but the alien environment and problems with adaptation in a foreign country also play a significant role for Ukrainian migrants. A different legal culture from ours and certain social values also influenced Ukrainians’ perception of new countries.
Many Ukrainians were unable to find a job, or managed to find a less skilled job than they had in Ukraine. Many people are still living on state aid, but it cannot last, and a number of countries have already begun to cut it. In addition, Russian propaganda is working hard to discredit the image of Ukrainians abroad, to defame and destroy the lives of people they forced to leave their homes with their military invasion. In particular, in the Czech Republic, Russian agents regularly organize rallies of several thousand people, demanding that Ukraine stop supporting Ukrainians and providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees.
Russian agents are systematically working to spread anti-Ukrainian sentiment and fake news among ordinary Europeans, so systematically provoked incidents against Ukrainians are actively spreading in the information space and affecting both the attitude towards Ukrainians and the perception of local residents by our compatriots. Human psychology always perceives deviations from the norm more painfully than the norm. People will remember an aggressive incident more than dozens of examples of normative, humane, and humane behavior. A news item falsified by Russians with the headline “refugee stole” will always have more coverage than the news that Ukrainian migrants in Poland paid more taxes to the Polish state budget from their salaries than Poland spent on helping Ukrainians.
Anastasia, a Ukrainian student who returned from abroadnotes: “Many Ukrainians have returned home because of the large bureaucracy abroad, the inability to see a doctor (because you need insurance, and it takes 3-4 months to get it), and the inability to buy medicines, because most of them are prescription. In addition, many Ukrainians do not want to leave their homes that remain in Ukraine. The return home of Ukrainians living abroad is also affected by cases of rejection by local residents. Language also plays a big role, as most Ukrainians do not want to learn it and language barriers arise. Another reason is that there are a lot of Russians abroad who, so to speak, oppress our compatriots and try to survive them.”
Many Ukrainians choose to return to their homeland instead of adapting to the environment of new countries, where there are many unsatisfactory factors. The sum of these factors leads to the return of some Ukrainians who realize that they have their own country, for which our compatriots are fighting today, and that we will not be better off anywhere else than at home.
Author: Valeriy Maydanyuk