Ukraine refugees heckled and sent death threats in countries they fled to

Some Ukrainian refugees are receiving death threats and abuse on the streets after fleeing to neighbouring countries, with one told to go back to the war so Putin could “wipe them off the face of the earth”, i has been told.

More than six million Ukrainians fled the country following the Russian invasion, with the majority staying in countries bordering Ukraine such as Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

But two years after the war began, three separate aid groups working in Ukraine’s border countries said they had seen a rise in hate directed at refugees, both online and in the streets.

A recent report from Save the Children found that children from Ukraine reported facing increased discrimination and bullying since leaving home, while some reported being “picked on” in the street for speaking Ukrainian.

Some refugees told the charity that the welcome in their host countries had changed over time, with one child stating: “If you go on the street speaking Ukrainian or Russian, they can pick on you. We have bad words written about Ukraine near our school.”

One comment on a Facebook post about an aid project by ACT Alliance, who said they were alarmed by the rising hostility, told Ukrainian refugees to “go f*** yourself to the war” and made sexually abusive comments, adding: “May Putin rain fire upon you, wiping you off the face of the Earth.”

Another message addressed to the aid workers said: “I’ll slap every Ukrainian citizen and give you a load of s***… you scumbag. In Romania, there are kids going to bed hungry and old people who nobody can even give a cup of water to, and you come with volunteering for foreigners.”

While all aid groups stressed that the hostility was from a minority – with the majority of the population providing a generous and welcoming response – Henry Wilson-Smith, from Catholic aid agency CAFOD, said its local partners have seen the rise in negative attitudes towards Ukrainian refugees, particularly as the economic situation worsened in border countries.

“Our local partner Jesuit Refugee Service Romania reports that ordinary people have the impression that Ukrainian refugees are receiving significant support from the Romanian government, when in reality delays to government assistance schemes mean state payments to Ukrainian refugees have not been paid in over six months,” he said.

“With a difficult economic situation in Romania continuing to get worse, with prices increasing, incomes falling and taxes to rise, the financial situation is helping to contribute to the rise in animosity.”

Mr Wilson-Smith said that the delays in state support to refugees and the Romanians supporting them had sometimes “created additional tensions”. Payments to apartment owners renting to refugees have been “severely delayed” leaving them “out of pocket for months on end and increasing tension.”

He added that the upcoming election in Romania was leading to increased disinformation, exacerbating the issues.

“Staff at JRS Romania say while the majority of communities remain supportive of Ukrainian refugees, they are noticing an uptick in negative sentiment when talking to taxi drivers, or their friends, for example,” he said.

Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, deputy director of the International Program at the US-based Migration Policy Institute, said that this was part of a wider trend in the treatment of refugees globally.

“Anxiety around migration… can include concerns about competition for jobs and resources, as well as stresses on infrastructure such as housing or schools; perceptions of crime or insecurity; and worries that the arrival of newcomers threatens cultural or national identity,” she said, adding that these could be exacerbated by a perceived unfairness about how resources are allocated, or concerns that there was no end in sight to the hosting of refugees.

“We have found in our research that even when solidarity blooms initially, it can be difficult to sustain over long periods.

“Essentially, no matter how warm the initial welcome or the level of solidarity host communities may feel with newcomers – which can be linked to cultural proximity, feelings of ‘brotherhood’, shared values – or even political pragmatism, people have inherent limits to the level of ‘sacrifice’ that can be asked of them and for how long.”

She added: “It’s difficult to predict when countries will reach this ‘tipping point’ where solidarity begins to give way to resentment.

“In general, the arc of support tends to peak during the emergency phase of a crisis, especially when reinforced by rhetoric extolling the importance of standing with newcomers, and gradually wanes as practical concerns about economics, security, or even cultural change come to the forefront.

“But the speed and degree to which solidarity wanes are not readily predictable and, importantly, are not dictated by arrival numbers alone.”

Ms Banulescu-Bogdan said this phenomenon wasn’t specific to Ukraine, with evidence of so-called compassion fatigue in Turkey, Colombia and other refugee settings over recent years.

But charities working with Ukrainians in the UK said they had not seen the trend strongly in Britain.

Stan Beneš, managing director of charity Opora which helps Ukrainian refugees rebuild their lives, said the organisation had “thankfully not seen this sort of behaviour towards Ukrainians in the UK on a significant scale.

“The experience of Ukrainians here has been greatly improved by the structure of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Unlike on the continent, Ukrainians have joined UK hosts, who have taken a lot of the care and support burden, which has meant that Ukrainians have not been in direct competition for scarce resources as much as elsewhere,” he said.

“Hosts also tended to be in more affluent areas, where the economic tensions aren’t as high. On top of that, proportionally, the UK has taken in far fewer Ukrainians than many other European countries.”

It comes after Polish farmers stopped Ukrainian trucks crossing at the border and tipped out the grain, in protest that the European Union was allegedly allowing cheap grain imports from Ukraine.

The incident drew condemnation from Ukraine’s Foreign Minister.