Ukrainian asylum seekers in Latvia: the circumstances of destination choice

New SSE Riga/BICEPS occasional paper by Zane Varpina (SSE Riga, BICEPS) and Kata Fredheim (SSE Riga, BICEPS).

This research was supported by Latvian Council of Science, Funding number: lzp-2018/1-0486, acronym: FLPP-2018-1.


Russian invasion in Ukraine in 2022 has created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII. Close to 7 million people have left the country as of August 2022 and figures keep growing. Latvia has accommodated a mere 36 thousand of them, but it exemplifies other smaller countries in the refugee flows. Patterns and factors of asylee destination decisions for less popular destinations have not been explored making one wonder what makes refugees deviate from the mainstream migration flows.

We explore why and how Ukrainian war-displaced people have chosen Latvia using the narratives of Ukrainian displaced people who arrived in Latvia in early stages of the conflict. Drawing on in-depth qualitative interviews with refugees in Latvia, we find that networks are the primary determinant of the choice to flee to Latvia. The closeness of kinship is not as important as the fact of having the contact as such, nor does it determine the level of support. Close or distant relatives and friends are the first instance to turn to for war-displaced civilians, while financial factors do not appear to be decisive. In the situation of acute displacement, the first asylee strategy is to seek support in kinship and other networks.

Keywords: Ukraine war displaced, asylum seekers, refugees, destination choice, Latvia