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Four Ways for a Refugee. Natalia Yemchenko’s Blog


Please find below the blog of Natalia Yemchenko, Communications Director at the SCM Group, published on the website of

Tens of thousands of people from Regions of Donetsk and Lugansk are leaving their homes, leaving for “nowhere”. At the same time, they try not to go far, they nestle as near as possible to their homes. Quarter of all refugees (according to official data, up to 35 thousands of people) have settled down in the south of the Donetsk region. Then go the Regions of Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye. Cities of Odessa, Kyiv. All around the whole country. People leave hoping to come back in few weeks. But weeks turn into months. And the refugees turn from temporary guests into annoying neighbours. Often, they have no money, no clear plan for future, no work, no job. With a great number of “open” issues. This is not the mass media that I know this from – I face it every day at the Humanitarian Centre of Rinat Akhmetov. We have evacuated over 20,000 people already from the military operations zone, no fewer than one quarter of them are now living at “our” facilities. Each facility, each boarding house is a separate small world with its own, quickly established rules and its own leaders. They are forced to seek answers to these questions, to integrate with the life of other regions - the life still goes on.

What should the refugees do? Four ways before them.

During the last two months refugees have been widely discussed in the mass media, social networks and conversations with acquaintances and strangers. On the one hand, they speak about the disinterested help of the Ukrainians and the selflessness of the refugee volunteers. On the other hand, they complain about lack of patriotism among the refugees and their disinclination for work. On yet other hand, there are accusations of ignoring the refugees’ problems and of an openly hostile attitude towards them. Individual stories taken out of the general number are gradually filling up the public content and constitute grounds for disappointing conclusions about formation of a whole mental wall between the refugees and the old residents, the Donbass people and people from other Ukrainian regions.

So far, this mental wall is rather in our imagination. In real life, it practically does not exist. And it can be either built up or destroyed. Everything depends on the model by which such relations will be developing in the approaching weeks and months.

Ch. Dodd, famous ethnosociologist, in his famous work Dynamics of Intercultural Communications singed out 4 possible models of such interaction.

The first model is Flight, escape or passive autarchy. In this case, refugees create a closed world living under its own laws, rules and habits, which practically does not cooperate with external environment. This is the model of many ghettos – Brighton Beach in New York, Arab quarters in Paris, or Armenian quarters in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this is the very way how some refugee bases are organized. In Singapore, special schemes are developed “to fight the autarchy”: for example, there is a limitation on a number of immigrants from a certain country residing in the same block of flats/building/district. Thus, the Singapore authorities “blend” different cultures.

The second model is Fight, escape or aggressive autarchy. This is the case when refugees actively protect their world and wilfully conflict with the hostile, in their opinion, external environment. This model manifests itself in mutual insults, fights, ultimatums of representatives of local and regional authorities with respect to refugees, and vice versa – ultimatums of refugees with respect to local residents. This model does not always dominate but it provides such rich TV shots that it often may be seen on the front pages and read on the news.

Implementation of these models leads to isolation and formation of that very mental wall between the migrants and the external environment. And this wall is thicker than any obstacles.

The third model is Filter, an open cultural dialog. In this case, the parties are willing to discuss values, to reconcile the interests, to seek and find the compromises. We see the examples of this model implementation in organization of the general volunteer movement, in creation of joint construction and repairs brigades, in active participation in the life of local communities. This model is a part of social reconstruction, which after the end of war Ukraine will need not less than the recovery of infrastructure.

Finally, the fourth model is Flex, flexibility. This is the case when migrants get completely adjusted to the external environment, accept its values, rules, habits and attitudes. But this model works only in case of individual integration with the environment of relatives and friends, and it practically never works in the areas of compact settlement. On the scale of country, where in an instant tens of thousands of migrants appeared, this model does not work, and it has never so worked anywhere.

I am sure that the most efficient model is the third one: cooperation, dialogue orientation, mutual respect and seeking compromises. I see many examples of how this model works. Although, truth be told, they are rather spontaneous, with no support whatsoever, and with no state or public policy in this sphere. And these examples are often overlooked by the mass media.

Why is that so?

First of all, any cooperation implies DISCUSSION and RECONCILIATION OF GOALS. For example, conducting reforms, recovery of the Donbass, economic development of Ukraine, improvement of the quality of life of its citizens, new industrialization. So far, there is no such discussed goal. Migrants are simply surviving, they do not think of the great goal. On part of residents of other Ukrainian regions, the one and only goal they offer to migrants is to wash out with their blood their “fault” for the presidency of Yanukovych and the terrorists’ actions.

Secondly, cooperation implies CONSOLIDATION but not opposition of INTERESTS. For example, I really do not understand why they speak of the aid to refugees and the aid to Ukraine as of two mutually exclusive notions, in the “either-or” format. And I am sure that the best aid to refugees will be providing them with an opportunity to really help their country and thus to regain confidence in the present and future for themselves and their families. There are working mechanisms for this, they have been many times implemented in a number of countries – all we need to do is to try and see further than just the present day, to set our mind on cooperation, creation and mutual respect instead of endless reproaches and insults.

And finally about the most important. In fact, the matter is not all about the migrants only. The matter is in the future of the Donbass in Ukraine – I mean people, people relationships, but not the territory. And how we will manage to build cooperation with temporary migrants today will influence relations between residents of different Ukrainian regions tomorrow. What way we will choose. Just like in a fairy tale. Should we follow the Flight way, refuse to listen and hear each other, we will get an isolated, exclusively self-oriented Donbass. Should we follow the Fight way, we will keep on the aggressive imposing to each other of the “one and only right” world view, and such our fights will bring us to the divorce. And if we follow the Filter way, we will again be united for achieving common goals, we will reconcile our interests and start creating common values.

I am sure to pick the last one.


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