People fleeing the country should not be subjected to integration programs, the head of its migration service says
Ukrainians who have fled to Western countries amid the conflict with Russia shouldn't be viewed as refugees, according to Natalia Naumenko, the head of Ukraine's State Migration Service.
The Ukrainian authorities "don't consider them refugees. We consider them people, who were forced to leave Ukraine," she said on Thursday.
"Fortunately, my colleagues from migration services of other countries also support me when I ask them not to consider our citizens refugees and not to create programs for their integration in the host country," Naumenko added.
She claimed that UN figures, which suggest that some 8 million Ukrainians have left the country since fighting began between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022, were "a bit exaggerated."
Ukrainian NGO, the Center for Economic Strategy, estimated earlier this month that between 1.3 million and 3.3 million Ukrainian refugees may not return to their home country after the end of the conflict.
"The non-return of Ukrainians will significantly impact the Ukrainian economy, which could lose between 2.7% and 6.9% of GDP annually," it warned.
Most Ukrainian refugees are women and children, as men aged between 18 and 60 are barred from leaving the country due to the mobilization announced by the Ukrainian authorities after the launch of Russia's military operation.
A demographer at the Kiev-based Ptoukha Institute for Demographic Studies, Aleksandr Gladun, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that it wasn't clear whether "the women [will] come back," or the men will "go and join their wives abroad."
Low birth rates, aggravated by the ongoing fighting, could see Ukraine's population dip below 30 million within the next two decades, having reached around 43 million in 2021, he said.
The UN has estimated that around 5.8 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded in Europe, with Poland and Germany accepting the highest numbers. Citing security sources, TASS reported earlier this year that Russia had taken in more than 5.2 million Ukrainian citizens fleeing the fighting, including some 730,000 children.
German paper Die Welt reported earlier this month that the integration of Ukrainians into the German labor market has been "sluggish" compared to Poland and some other EU nations. Out of over 1 million Ukrainian refugees in the country, only 20% currently have jobs, according to the outlet.