President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently said the money German taxpayers currently spend on accommodating Ukrainian war refugees could be administered from Kyiv by his government.
"It would be better if Germany supported Ukrainians by including this money in our budget, and Ukraine would distribute the money depending on where the person is staying," Zelenskyy told the German broadcaster ARD on January 28.
Zelenskyy said some Ukrainians living in Germany were receiving financial assistance from both governments. He added that some refugees had taken their savings with them from Ukraine, depriving the country not only of citizens but also their money for its war-torn economy.
About €6 billion ($6.5 billion) has been earmarked in Germany's 2024 budget for Ukrainian refugees who are able to work. Each adult registered with a job center will receive a allowance amounting to €563 per month. About 700,000 of the approximately 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees in Germany are registered. The others are mainly children and people of retirement age, who receive support from other sources.
According to the Federal Employment Agency, about 20% of Ukrainian refugees in Germany are currently employed, while the rest receive social benefits to cover rent and living expenses. About 80% of displaced Ukrainians in Germany are living in apartments, not in refugee centers. The expenses for the allowance and rent alone amount to €750-€850 per person per month. On top of that come the costs for benefits for pensioners and children, as well as for health insurance and integration courses.
No systematic abuse by Ukrainians
Margret Böwe from the VdK social association told DW that it would be impossible to implement Zelenskyy's idea under German law. "This aid is only paid in Germany," she said. "Even Germans living abroad do not receive these benefits."
She said Zelenskyy's proposal contradicted Germany's system of social benefits, which is based on what people need for their minimum subsistence, such as care and education for their children or the purchase of furniture.
Böwe also disputed the assertion that some people were receiving aid from both Ukraine and Germany. "If people apply for the citizen's allowance or pension benefits, there are checks on whether they have a pension or other payments from Ukraine. These are then deducted," she said. She added that if people did not receive enough from Ukraine to maintain a certain subsistence standard of living, then Germany topped up the benefits.
In response to a DW inquiry sent before Zelenskyy's ARD interview, the press office of the Federal Employment Agency said there was no information about systematic benefit abuse by Ukrainians. But it added that refugees often did not know that they had to report to the job center before traveling to Ukraine and after their return to Germany.
Germany spending billions on support for Kyiv
According to government calculations, as of mid-December Berlin had committed to spending a total of €27.8 billion in support for Kyiv in the past two years since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This includes an expenditure of up to €8.9 billion for social benefits for Ukrainian refugees in Germany.
Much more is being spent on payments to refugees in Germany than on humanitarian aid to Ukraine, which amounted to €2.4 billion over the past two years. But the largest share of German aid to Ukraine is for the military, amounting to €17 billion over the past two years. Germany is also the EU member state paying most into the EU budget for Ukraine. According to Kyiv, it received the equivalent of $19.5 billion in 2023.
In total, the financial aid of Western donors allocated directly to Ukraine's state budget in 2023 corresponded to about 80% of Kyiv's expenditure on social benefits and pensions for internally displaced persons.
'People need prospects'
In Germany, the public mood regarding Ukraine is changing. According to a survey published at the beginning of the year, 41% of those questioned believed Berlin was giving too much help to Ukraine. That's almost twice the number from April 2022.
Böwe said there was no other option: Ukrainians in Germany must be given time to learn the language and acquire the necessary professional qualifications to integrate into the labor market. "People need prospects," she said. "You can't keep them waiting for years. That only gets them down and doesn't achieve anything."
According to a study published over the summer by the Federal Institute for Population Research, 44% of Ukrainian refugees want to stay in Germany, regardless of the outcome of the war.
This article was originally published in Russian.