As the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains unresolved, refugees from the war-torn communities of the Donbas region are seeking refuge in Estonia. In 2013, Estonia had a population of 23,000 ethnic Ukrainians, comprising the third largest minority group in the country, after Estonians and Russians. In 2014, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Estonia would grant Ukrainian citizens living in Donetsk and Luhansk free, long-term visas. Since the crisis, the number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Estonia has increased from 675 in 2013 to 1,659 in 2015, making it the largest foreign group to seek residency in Estonia.
While leaving behind their homes in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian refugees bring their valuable skill sets to Estonia’s burgeoning medical and information technology sectors. The influx of qualified Ukrainian professionals in Estonia’s job market has allowed Estonian employers to fill critical positions long vacant due to a lack of qualified candidates.
In order to facilitate the job-seeking process, Estonia grants Ukrainian refugees a Temporary Residence Permit. The permit allows Ukrainian refugees to enter Estonia without any restrictions, such as proof of income, while giving them the status to apply for positions in any employment sector.
In addition to the government’s provisions, refugees can also find themselves welcomed by the local Ukrainian community and Ukrainian church that offers services to help refugees begin a new life in Estonia.
Estonia has coupled a vested interest in Ukraine’s internal development, through aid focusing on humanitarian needs, electoral reform, and educational assistance, with domestic legislation helping Ukrainians fleeing the conflict back home. In the process, the Estonian economy has benefited, while local Ukrainian communities have become active stakeholders in supporting an at-risk population.