Five times as many Ukrainians applied for asylum in the country in 2014 compared to 2013, with 130 applicants last year compared to just 25 in 2013.
The rise was part of a leap in asylum applications from Ukraine seen across the 28 EU member states, with the total number of Ukrainian asylum seekers ballooning to 14,040 people in 2014, more than 13 times higher than the 1,060 who applied in 2013.
The number is even greater when compared to 2008, the beginning of the global economic crisis, when just 925 Ukrainians applied for asylum.
“What we have seen from our members working with asylum seekers are those who are fleeing the conflict in the east of Ukraine,” Julia Zelvenska, a senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told The Local. “In the past, it has been for political persecution, like in 2013, or for sexual orientation.”
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last month that an estimated one million Ukrainians were displaced internally, with many people moving west. Some 600,000 people had sought asylum, many of them in non-EU countries such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova.
But many Ukrainians also applied for asylum in the European Union in 2014, a year that started with a revolution in Kiev and the ousting of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Russia then annexed Crimea in March, in a move widely condemned around the world, before propping up separatists fighting bloody battles with Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.
Of those who applied for asylum in 2014, 650 Ukrainians received positive outcomes on their first application decision in the EU. Eurostat defines positive outcomes as grants of refugee or subsidiary protection status, or an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons.
Still, those who received good news were greatly outnumbered by those who were rejected in their first try – 2,335.
Norway rejected 75 Ukrainian asylum applicants in their first attempt, and had not accepted any applicants in 2014, according to Eurostat data.
Zelvenska explained to The Local that it is generally very hard for Ukrainians to gain asylum in EU member states, or to even reach those countries in the first place.
“One of the main reasons people get rejected may be that many countries are not clear on how the situation developed and won’t issue decisions until it is clear how the Ukrainian situation is going to develop,” she said.
“European countries are also being very formalistic in the criteria for asylum,” Zelvenska added. “For example, they may say that there are options for alternative protection already within Ukraine. For people in the east, they may say that they could relocate to the west.”
Zelvenska noted though that reasons for rejection are not made public so it is difficult to know for certain.
“We think it’s not necessary to apply all the criteria in a strict manner,” she said. “They must consider each case, country and the circumstances.”
Last year, EU countries received the highest number of asylum seekers since 1992 with a total of 626,000 applicants. More than 400,000 people applied in 2013.
Ukrainian asylum seekers generally made Germany their first port of call, with the country receiving 2,705 requests according to Eurostat, 18 times more than in 2013.
Of the Ukrainians who applied, Germany accepted 20 in the first instance, but rejected another 45.
Italy accepted the highest number of Ukrainian applicants compared to all other EU countries, with 165 applicants receiving positive outcomes, followed by the Czech Republic (150) and Finland (145).