The UN’s World Refugee Day is June 20. It’s a day to draw public attention to the tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world who’ve had to flee their homes because of war, conflict or persecution.

Sadly, there’s no shortage of IDPs in Ukraine. There are 1.7 million IDPs across the country who have been forced to flee Donbas and Crimea over the past two years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to return home anytime soon.

Yesterday the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and the UNHCR released results from a timely poll of Ukrainians’ attitudes towards internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine.

It was really two surveys – one a representative in-person survey of Ukrainians as part of KIIS’s regular omnibus (data from which I’ve bored people with before), and the other a telephone survey just of Ukrainians in cities with large populations (CLP in the report and the rest of this piece) of IDPs.

It’s a really effective way of parsing out the differences in attitudes between people who actually have met and know IDPs and those who haven’t. And they’re certainly different.

Tonight’s episode of ‘Talking to IDPs’

Turns out most Ukrainians haven’t actually had that much contact with IDPs in their communities. Only 17% of Ukrainians country-wide have had a conversation with an IDP, and 39% haven’t ever spoken with an IDP nor know of any living in their vicinity. Even in CLPs less than half (47%) have actually spoken to an IDP.

But as you can see in the crappy screenshot I’ve taken of Figure 1.2 of the report, people in CLPs are more likely to know about IDPs where they live, to have spoken to some, to have some as neighbours/friends or relatives and/or to live with some. Not surprising.

Figure 1.2

These numbers differ across Ukraine and again, not surprisingly, they mirror the distribution of IDPs across the country. Look at the bottom graph – in western Ukraine just under half (49%) of respondents have never spoken with an IDP nor know of any living in their vicinity, compared to 41% in central Ukraine, 34% in southern Ukraine and 26% in eastern Ukraine.

How do Ukrainians feel about IDPs?

The vast majority of Ukrainians have positive or neutral attitudes towards IDPs, particularly those who actually live in cities with large IDP populations.

Across the entire country, 43% of Ukrainians said they had positive attitudes IDPs, while 58% did in CLPs. Not many Ukrainians hold negative views of IDPs – only 6% across all Ukraine and a minuscule 2% in CLPs.

Ukrainians’ opinions of IDPs haven’t changed much in the past two years. Five percent of people across Ukraine said their attitudes towards IDPs had improved – compared to 10 percent in CLPs – and 7 percent said their attitudes had worsened, compared to only 3% in CLPs.

While there are a few regional differences in attitudes towards IDPs, these attitudes look to be more associated with (lack of) familiarity with IDPs than anything else.

Look at Figure 3.4, particularly the top green bar(s) for western Ukraine and western Ukrainian CLPs. In western Ukraine negative stereotypes of IDPs are more common – but remember that western Ukrainians had less contact and less familiarity with IDPs than people in any other part of Ukraine.

Figure 3.4

What’s more, those negative stereotypes are much less common in western Ukrainian cities with large IDP populations, much like everywhere else in the country. While almost a quarter of western Ukrainians think that IDPs “support separatism,” less than one in ten western Ukrainians in CLPs do. This tells me that the best way for a Ukrainian to understand ‘what IDPs think’ is to meet and chat with some – just like, say, in Canada or the US, the best way to understand what Syrian refugees are like is to…you know, meet some.

For reference, here’s Figure 3.3 of the “positive” characteristics, where you can see a similar trend the other way, particularly when it comes to the idea that IDPs are “very vulnerable and need help.”

Figure 3.3

What’s more, people who have more contact with IDPs and/or know some tend to be more likely to be willing to hire them or to rent them a place to live.

Table 10

Familiarity, it seems, doesn’t have to breed contempt.

With my stats hat on, I have to acknowledge that there could be other reasons for all this. Are more positive/less negative views of IDPs more related to factors like income/socio-economic status and level of education that are higher in big cities that happen to have large IDP populations? Do people in population centres with IDPs tend to be more liberal in their political views, which itself would explain their positive attitudes towards IDPs? All possible, yes, but I doubt it. If I had the data set I could run this and answer that question. So, you know, UNHCR/KIIS, hintity hint hint.

What matters? Media coverage matters

The takeaway from this is that the more Ukrainians encounter, meet and get to know IDPs, the more likely they seem to be to have positive attitudes towards them. But you can’t get every Ukrainian in every village, town and city to get to know an IDP, particularly if there isn’t one for miles around.

That’s why media coverage of IDPs in Ukraine really matters. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents in this poll said they based their opinions of IDPs on mass media; media coverage is even important for shaping the opinions of people who’ve met IDPs (53%) and those who have IDPs as friends or neighbours (38%).

What’s the best substitute for actually getting to know someone who’s had to flee their home? Watching, reading or hearing a good, accurate story about one.

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