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Russia should be ready for 2nd Ukrainian refugee wave in winter - ombudswoman

October 20, 2014, 6:29 UTC+3 MOSCOW

"We should be ready for the second wave of migration and not only from the southeast of Ukraine," she said

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© ITAR-TASS/Aleksey Pavlishak

MOSCOW, October 20. /TASS/. Russia should be ready in winter for a second wave of migration of refugees from Ukraine, and not only from the country’s embattled southeast, Russia’s human rights ombudswoman Ella Pamfilova told Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta during a Business Lunch.

Pamfilova said that “the first wave of refugees is now on a decline as people are inspired with a possible truce”.

“But there will be winter, which will be hard to live through in affected Ukrainian territories. So we should be ready for the second wave of migration and not only from the southeast of Ukraine. We should also not forget that many refugees who arrived earlier remain in Russia,” she said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in early September Russia has had to pay some 1 billion rubles ($25.3 million at current rates) for the stay of Ukrainian refugees on its territory.

Unprecedented wave of refugees

Pamfilova said Russia was not ready for the unprecedented wave of refugees from the neighboring country, but that aid to the people was provided promptly thanks to joint efforts by officials and ordinary people.

“I don’t remember such a burst of civic activism… People got involved in work jointly with the authorities; businessmen, volunteers, ordinary people who decided to house refugees united their efforts. Russia has lived through a unique kind of unity in this connection,” she said.

Pamfilova said regional human rights ombudspersons are involved in constant monitoring of the situation with refugees, and she said she plans to submit a package of proposals to the Russian government taking into account the monitoring results.

Western selectiveness

The ombudswoman sharply criticized selectiveness of Western media in their coverage of the situation in Ukraine’s southeast. According to Pamfilova, “independent” European media “are writing about Iraq, Syria and Palestine” but for some reason “fail to notice the death of civilians in Ukraine’s southeast.”

“Why such selectiveness? Instead of demonstrative breadth of independent views, [they are] only following the order to label Russia accusing it of everything,” she said.

“Russia has things to be criticized for, but [critics] should have the moral right to do so. I have the utmost disappointment and I don’t hide it from my Western colleagues when I meet with them,” the ombudswoman said.

Speaking about the work of human rights organizations in the world in general, Pamfilova said many institutions under the United Nations aegis have yielded to the situation and stopped providing information objectively.

“The powerful human rights billy club is masterfully used to defend someone’s economic and political interests. I can’t name a single institution in the world which would be absolutely objective and unbiased,” she said.

“The values of human rights, understood in a certain way, are imposed by force: you must, you have to. But different countries have different history, culture and mentality,” Pamfilova said.

“When a country with a certain history, traditions, culture and religion is censured for the absence of same-sex marriages, people have a feeling that the entire system of European values makes that the cornerstone,” she said. “The fundamental rights are played down at that, and people have a natural rejection.”

Ukrainian crisis

Ukraine has been in deep crisis since the end of last year, when then-President Viktor Yanukovich suspended the signing of an association agreement with the European Union to study the deal more thoroughly. The move triggered mass riots that eventually ended with a coup in February 2014.

The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during the coup.

Crimea and Sevastopol adopted declarations of independence on March 11. They held a referendum on March 16, in which 96.77% of Crimeans and 95.6% of Sevastopol voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the reunification deals March 18.

Despite Moscow’s repeated statements that the Crimean referendum on secession from Ukraine was in line with the international law and the UN Charter and in conformity with the precedent set by Kosovo’s secession from Serbia in 2008, the West and Kiev have refused to recognize the legality of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

Crimea’s example apparently inspired residents of Ukraine’s southeast who did not recognize the coup-imposed authorities either, formed militias and started fighting for their rights.

Southeastern developments

Kiev’s military operation designed to regain control over the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk regions in Ukraine’s southeast, which on May 11 proclaimed their independence at local referendums, kicked off in mid-April and has involved armored vehicles, heavy artillery and attack aviation. It has killed hundreds of civilians, brought destruction and forced hundreds of thousands to flee Ukraine’s southeast.

The parties to the Ukrainian conflict agreed on cessation of fire and exchange of prisoners during talks mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on September 5 in Belarusian capital Minsk two days after Putin proposed his plan to settle the situation in the east of Ukraine.

UN assessments

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported October 17 that the death toll as a result of the conflict in eastern Ukraine has reached 3,707. The Office’s report said 9,075 people have been wounded in the region.

According to UN data, the population keeps fleeing the conflict-torn areas. As of October 17, Ukraine had 415,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The number of refugees stood at 427,000 people most of whom have hidden in Russia. Some 5.2 million people currently reside in areas affected by hostilities, the OCHA said.

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