The shifting demography of the Occupied Territories (2022-2023)

Since Russia annexed Crimea in February-March 2014, and its supporters seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, a great many war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed there.
Vladyslav Myroshnychenko10 December 2023UA DE EN ES FR IT RU


This has profoundly affected the composition of the population in the Occupied Territories. Today similar policies are being extended to the newly occupied territories of south Ukraine.

Many of Russia’s crimes are systematic and have been pursued as a consistent State policy. One such has led to a major shift in the composition of the local population.

At the outset we may note that this Russian policy violates international humanitarian law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states unequivocally: “The Occupying Power shall not deport, or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The mass settlement of Russians in the Crimea and deportation of Ukrainian citizens from the peninsula, moreover, could be qualified as both a war-crime and a crime against humanity, as defined, respectively, by two articles of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute: Article 8:2 (a) vii, “unlawful transfer or deportation”, and Article 7:1 (d), “Deportation or forcible transfer of population”.

Russia began to implement this immediately after it occupied Crimea in February-March 2014. Regrettably, the State-Aggressor’s policy has proved successful. It is variously estimated that up to 800,000 Russian citizens have settled illegally in the peninsula since 2014 while approximately 100,000 Ukrainian citizens left Crimea. Key elements of this policy are: discounted mortgage credits for the incomers; the transfer to the area of Russian soldiers, law-enforcement officers, judges and State, medical and educational staff with their families; the expulsion of Ukrainian citizens to mainland Ukraine; and, lastly, incentives to Ukrainians to resettle in Russia.

Since the all-out invasion of 24 February 2022, the Aggressor-State has been pursuing an identical policy in the newly occupied territories. So far this policy of colonisation has not been as successful as in Crimea: ongoing hostilities have discouraged Russians from moving in large numbers into the region. Occupied Ukrainian cities relatively far from the frontline form a certain exception. Like Mariupol, they may be regarded as part of “the home front”. It is Russia’s policy, moreover, to settle and restore those cities, thereby demonstrating to its audience at home and, where possible, to the outside world that they are ‘flourishing’ under Russian occupation.

An influx of people from Russia

Information from open sources mainly concerns the application of this policy to Mariupol, under Russian occupation since late May 2022. The following instructive examples highlight the intentions of the invading forces.

  1. The Russian Ministry for Construction, Housing & Utilities announced, that over the four years from 2022 to 2025 there was a plan to build more than 600,000 square metres of residential accommodation in Mariupol in multi-storey apartment blocks. The military-construction complex of the RF Ministry of Defence would be in charge of this work and, indeed, it immediately began unlawful construction there as soon as the city was occupied.
  2. On 1 July 2023, adviser to the Mayor of Mariupol Petro Andriushchenko stated that since the city was captured about 40,000 Russian citizens had settled there illegally.
  3. “The enemy has devised a ‘development plan’ for the temporarily occupied city of Mariupol,” announced the National Resistance Centre of Ukraine [1]. “This envisages increasing the population to about 300,000, thanks to migration from Russia.” [Pre-invasion Mariupol had a population of about 420,000, tr.] “The plan is to achieve this demographic shift by 2035.”

Furthermore, as the Ukrainian authorities have announced more than once, teachers from Russia are almost certainly present throughout the occupied territories.

Confirmation of this Russian policy is provided by the many advertisements on the country’s websites, recruiting people from the Russian provinces and other CIS countries to work in Ukraine. In particular, the adverts appeal, among other occupations, for construction workers, law-enforcement officers and medical doctors. Some applicants are offered temporary contracts; others, lured by wages and salaries several times higher than those in Russia’s hinterland, move permanently to Ukraine’s occupied territories. The total number of illegal migrants from Central Asia in occupied Ukraine, for example, has already reached 100,000, according to the National Resistance Centre.

According to the latest information culled by the Ukrainian General Staff “The invaders continue to pursue a policy of artificial resettlement and the forced assimilation of Ukrainians on the temporarily occupied territories. In the Henicheskky district of the Kherson Region, for instance, the invaders started to force those Ukrainian citizens who had not yet received Russian citizenship or turned down the offer to move to Russia: that includes the elderly and families with children. They are being replaced, as a rule, with poorly-provided-for, ethnic minority groups from the Russian Federation.”

The mortgage incentive

The large-scale Russian programme of cheap mortgages for houses and apartments in the occupied territories (parts of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk Regions) deserves separate mention.

The mortgage credits offered to those moving to the occupied areas are much more attractive than any other available programme. This directly supports the transfer of Russian citizens to occupied areas of Ukraine and, at the same time, make it easier for Ukrainians to move to Russia. Such a programme is purely political in purpose: judging by the success of a similar programme in Crimea we can confidently assert that such mortgage credits will form a key part of Russia’s colonisation policy in other occupied territories within Ukraine.

In conclusion, we may say that Russia’s present policy towards the population of the occupied territories is a direct continuation of the policy pursued since 2014, especially in the Crimea. As long as the fighting remains intense and Russian citizens are being transferred to areas under martial law, the flow of immigrants from Russia will remain relatively limited. Changes in the composition of the population in the newly occupied territories are, therefore, proceeding slowly and, as of now, are neither steady nor continuous.

There can be little doubt, however, that if (as was earlier the case in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions) the conflict becomes ‘frozen’, the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have fled the occupied territories will never return: their place will rapidly be taken by many thousands from Russia.

[1]  Set up in March 2022 under the guidance of Ukraine’s special operations forces (part of the country’s army), the purpose of the NRC is to teach non-violent resistance to the civilian population. It operates within guidelines laid down in the July 2021 law “On the Foundations of National Resistance”.

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