As a result of the Russian invasion, Ukraine found itself in a humanitarian and human rights crisis. According to estimates, about 6.48 million people are displaced within Ukraine, and more than 3.3 million people have left Ukraine as refugees. The vast majority of refugees are women and children, who are at particular risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. More than 2 million refugees are in Poland.
The speed and scale of the international response to the crisis was unprecedented and generous, with the European Union, the United States and other donor governments contributing generously to the relief effort. The EU provides legal status and protection to people who have sought or are seeking asylum from war in EU countries. This is a very welcome development, which stands in stark contrast to Europe's response to the exodus of refugees from across the continent, but should be the norm.
Refugees in Poland (and other regions)
The generous response to refugees mobilized in Poland is impressive and heart-warming. Volunteers have largely been at the heart of the effort, along with provincial (voivodeship) governments offering varying levels of support — and in many ways playing catch-up. In Poland and other host countries, the UN, EU and other donors must support governments and civil society to meet the reception and integration needs of refugees in the near and long term. These include safe housing, medical and mental health care, and access to education and employment. An effective response will be based on local civil society organizations investing in their ability to scale existing services. Rapid development of government initiatives to responsibly collect and share information on domestic and international relief efforts is necessary to strengthen protections and prevent human trafficking, exploitation and other rights abuses in the region.
Unfortunately, non-Ukrainians who fled Ukraine faced greater obstacles to reception and integration, with problems that arise on both sides of the border. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the EU and other leaders have publicly called for the EU to admit all those fleeing Ukraine, regardless of race or nationality.
Humanitarian crisis within Ukraine
Even as states take on the responsibility of hosting refugees fleeing Ukraine—a challenge that Europe can handle—they must address what looms as a much more formidable challenge: the humanitarian emergency in Ukraine. The conflict, particularly Russia's bombing of civilian facilities and the inability of civilians to escape safely, has caused a massive internal crisis, exacerbating an already dire situation. In addition, several factors indicate that the situation will become even more desperate. In particular, since the offensive of the Russian military was thwarted, they are blocking settlements and causing enormous suffering.
War crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine
West Support is convinced that the Russian military and the Russian government are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. They must end such abuses and must be held accountable for a wide range of widespread, indiscriminate and apparently brutal, deliberate and unprovoked attacks on civilians in Ukraine and against civilian institutions.
Termination of the conflict
The Russian government must stop its offensive and withdraw all its troops from the territory of Ukraine. In the absence of such a withdrawal of Russia, West Support makes the following recommendations:
Asylum and protection outside Ukraine
The UN Secretary-General and concerned governments, including the government of China, should pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to guarantee safe passage for Ukrainian civilians to safer areas in Ukraine and to countries that will offer genuine protection to those seeking to flee Ukraine. Countries bordering Ukraine must continue to provide unimpeded access to the territory.
EU Member States must swiftly implement the EU Temporary Protection Directive in a comprehensive manner to ensure safety and support for all those in need of protection.
Refugee-hosting governments should prioritize registration procedures that collect data disaggregated by age, gender, origin and other factors, and should use available EU funding and resources to effectively share responsibility for receiving refugees for integration purposes. This includes supporting a community-based reception model and avoiding refugee camps.
Governments and organizations informed by the refugees themselves must develop and implement programs tailored to the specific needs of people fleeing Ukraine, who are predominantly women and children. This should include transitional money and cash-for-work programs, prevention of human trafficking and gender-based violence, and access to mental health care and childcare. Continuous monitoring can help ensure that the response is adapted to changing needs. The United Nations and European governments must provide adequate resources and coordination support, as needed, to support responses that benefit refugees and their host communities.
The United States and other donor countries should provide substantial financial support to the governments of refugee-hosting countries bordering Ukraine, commensurate with their level of need. Donors should work with national governments to ensure that aid is provided to NGOs and officials working at the local level in each of these countries.
The UN Secretary-General, the US Secretary of State, EU leaders and European governments should put pressure on Poland and other countries bordering Ukraine to ensure fair and non-discriminatory treatment of non-Ukrainian citizens, including access to a safe area and appropriate reception conditions and protection and integration support if they cannot return to their country of origin.
As part of an international effort to share responsibility, US President Joe Biden should immediately announce that he will urgently authorize the resettlement of at least 100,000 Ukrainian refugees over the next two years.
Humanitarian aid within Ukraine
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the EU through its Civil Protection Mechanism, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) should accelerate efforts to develop aid support infrastructure in Ukraine. Donor governments should commit to maintaining the generous level of support that will be necessary and prioritize assistance through local organizations in Ukraine or the region.
Humanitarian assistance should address the immediate needs of civilians, including food, water, safe shelter and medical assistance (including medical evacuation), and provide priority cash assistance where possible. Aid should also contribute to early recovery efforts.
Armed forces must ensure safe and unimpeded access to civilians in need of humanitarian assistance to deliver life-saving assistance. This includes establishing and maintaining safe humanitarian corridors for the movement of goods and people.
Responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law (laws of armed conflicts).
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is to step up the investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, which has been supported by a number of governments.
The United States government should publicly support the ICC's efforts.
Ukraine gained independence from the then Soviet Union in 1991, becoming the second largest country in Europe. With approximately 44 million citizens, it is also one of the most densely populated. Geographically and politically, Ukraine found itself between Russia in the east and the European Union in the west. Two important historical events in recent history reflect this tension. During the 2005 Orange Revolution, protesters were initially successful in preventing Russian-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovych from taking office after accusations that he had stolen the election. A pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko, won the next election, but failed to live up to voters' expectations for economic reforms and greater European integration in the next term. In 2010, Yanukovych returned and became president. However, popular support for EU integration did not wane, and protests flared up again in 2013 after Yanukovych suspended concrete steps towards EU accession. Thus began the Maidan Revolution, a popular uprising that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych's government in February 2014. The Ukrainian parliament appointed interim leaders with a clear mandate to maintain closer ties with Europe.
A few days after the appointment of an interim government, Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, ostensibly to protect the region's large Russian population. The following month, a Russian-backed separatist uprising took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Donbas. In 2015, the Minsk agreements brought an unstable peace along the established 427-kilometer "line of demarcation," which both sides claim has been repeatedly violated. The war had terrible humanitarian consequences. As of February 2022, about 14,000 people have died as a result of the ongoing violence, nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine, and 2.9 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Since the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyi as the President of Ukraine in 2019, Ukraine has continued its orientation towards the West. In November 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin began massing troops on Russia's border with Ukraine, raising fears of a further invasion of eastern Ukraine. Against the backdrop of escalating tensions and troop movements, Russia demanded guarantees from the West that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would never accept Ukraine. NATO will not undertake to exclude Ukraine in principle, even if membership is impossible. Months of diplomatic negotiations, sanctions and warnings of an imminent invasion came to a head in February 2022. On February 21, President Putin announced that he would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and ordered the deployment of troops to the separatist regions for so-called peacekeeping purposes. A few days later, on February 24, Russia launched a full-scale invasion, attacking Ukraine from the north, south, and east.
The War Against Ukraine: Affected Populations and Early Trends in Displacement
According to the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), published in February 2022, there were already 2.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine before the recent escalation of the conflict. Of this population, 1.6 million people lived in the Non-Government Controlled Territories (NKUT) in eastern Donbas, and more than 1.4 million were internally displaced persons.  According to UN estimates, 54 percent of people in need were women, 30 percent were elderly, 13 percent were children, and 13 percent were persons with disabilities. As a Russian invasion became more and more likely.
Indeed, as of March 18, 2022, 6.48 million people were internally displaced in Ukraine, compared to 1.46 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in February 2022. Most people moved to western cities, in particular to the Lviv region. As of March 18, 2022, more than 3.3 million people have also found refuge outside of Ukraine. Most of those who moved in the first days after the invasion came from the western regions of Ukraine, but people from areas located in the east began to arrive in the third week of the invasion. Because Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay in the country to fight, women and children make up about 90 percent of those who have left the country. About half of these refugees are children under the age of 18, many of them unaccompanied by guardians. People with underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to injury and illness, including COVID-19, who have mobility difficulties or depend on pensions or public assistance to meet their basic needs, also face acute challenges when moving.
The majority of refugees — more than 2 million people as of March 18, 2022 — sought asylum in Poland. Most people enter by car, bus or on foot at one of the eight checkpoints along the country's southeastern border. Medicine is most often used. Many others arrive at Przemyśl railway station. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighboring Moldova and the neighboring EU states of Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. More than 184,000 people left for Russia, and about 2,500 for Belarus. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted, this general movement is the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Europe and the world respond: the initial humanitarian response
The speed and scale of the international response to the crisis were unprecedented. On the same day that Russia launched the invasion, the UN released $20 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for "an immediate increase in life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians in Ukraine." Days later, on March 1, 2022, he launched coordinated emergency appeals totaling $1.7 billion. OCHA's US$1.14 billion emergency appeal aims to assist 6 million people in Ukraine during an initial three-month period, while the Interagency Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) seeks an initial US$550.6 million to help Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and other countries of the region to provide necessary assistance and services to refugees. According to UN estimates, 12 million people in Ukraine and more than 4 million refugees outside Ukraine will need assistance and protection for a likely long period. According to a UN spokesman, by the end of the emergency humanitarian appeal event, US$1.5 billion had been allocated to humanitarian appeals - "one of the fastest and most generous responses ever to a humanitarian appeal". By mid-March, the urgent appeal was financed by more than 35 percent.
The European Union and its member states have provided significant assistance. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that 500 million euros from the EU budget will provide assistance in Ukraine and neighboring countries that host refugees. As of mid-March 2022, EUR 93 million in humanitarian aid had been disbursed, including EUR 85 million for Ukraine and EUR 8 million for Moldova. In addition, thanks to the largest-ever activation of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in response to an emergency situation, 107 million relief items were delivered to Ukraine and to Moldova, Poland and Slovakia. The EU also accelerated the disbursement of EUR 600 million of emergency macro-financial assistance (MFA) to Ukraine, which is the first installment under the new emergency program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in the amount of EUR 1.2 billion.
The EU's political response was also dramatic in its speed and generosity. On March 2, 2022, the Commission issued operational guidance to help border guards in frontline states manage border arrivals. Citizens of Ukraine already enjoy visa-free travel to the EU for up to 90 days, and EU countries have pledged to keep their borders open. The commission went further by encouraging states to, for example, relax border checks; approve more flexible entry conditions for non-EU citizens, including non-Ukrainians; and allow transit through temporary, unofficial border crossings. The simplification of entry procedures is aimed at removing concerns about long waits at the border and making it easier for people to access security. The EU has also deployed additional staff from Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard agency, to the EU-Ukraine and Moldova-Ukraine borders to help manage the movement of people.
Perhaps the most important step is that the European Union has unanimously agreed to activate the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for the first time. The TPD gives a clear legal status to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, setting common minimum standards of protection for EU member states. It guarantees access to welfare, housing, health care, employment and education for at least one year and up to three years by registering residence rather than applying for asylum, an often complicated and lengthy process. At a minimum, TPD applies to citizens of Ukraine who resided in Ukraine as of February 24, 2022 and were displaced by the conflict, as well as to individuals who resided in Ukraine with refugee status or equivalent protection status prior to February 24, 2022. In addition, non-Ukrainians or third-country nationals (TCNs) residing in Ukraine on the basis of a permanent residence permit and unable to return to their country of origin in safe and durable conditions must either obtain protection under the TPD or under a comparable national protection scheme . Member States have discretion to extend the scope of the TPD beyond these criteria and must apply it in the most inclusive way possible.
The desire of EU states to keep borders open and facilitate the integration of refugees is an important and long-awaited development. But it's important to note—and emphasize—that these measures stand in stark contrast to Europe's response to other humanitarian crises, which have prompted—or even expected—displaced people to seek refuge in Europe. As US and NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in September 2021, some European leaders have begun to fear a repeat of the "2015 refugee crisis," using everything from financial aid to border fences to keep Afghan refugees out. Their warnings did not come true, as there was no large-scale movement of Afghans to EU borders after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
An even more poignant comparison is the very recent response of Poland itself, as well as Latvia and Lithuania, to the arrival of mostly Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers across the Belarusian border. After threatening to "flood" the EU with drugs and "illegal migrants" in response to sanctions, the administration of Belarusian leader Oleksandr Lukashenka allegedly facilitated the travel of foreigners to Belarus and to EU borders by encouraging them to cross. Poland responded not by protecting people who were manipulated for political purposes, but by arresting and forcibly expelling them from the territory of the EU; closing its border and building fences and walls; blocking humanitarian workers and journalists from helping stranded asylum seekers or covering the situation at the border; and adopt a law on refusal of asylum. The European Commission supported this approach, recently proposing new asylum and return measures in December 2021 that allow Poland, Latvia and Lithuania to temporarily derogate from standard asylum procedures in response to an "emergency situation" at their borders with Belarus - a disproportionate response to the arrival of several thousand people, which violated the regime of international protection.
Meanwhile, as of March 11, 2022, the United States has committed more than $106.5 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine in fiscal year 2022. On March 15, President Joe Biden signed the Big Spending Act, which includes a $13.6 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. On February 24, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) established a Disaster Response Team (DART) to lead the humanitarian response in Ukraine, and the US Department of Homeland Security announced that Ukraine would be granted temporary protection status for 18 months. The latter protects only "citizens of Ukraine and stateless persons who last permanently resided in Ukraine" and who have continuously resided in the United States since March 1, 2022, from forced return to Ukraine. The Biden administration is reportedly considering speeding up the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees with ties to the United States, including families living there, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Needs and priorities in Poland and other countries of asylum.
Since Poland is the main country of first arrival for people fleeing Ukraine, the situation there is a useful illustration of the needs of refugees and the steps that host countries must take to respond. In Poland, the initial response focused on ensuring that people fleeing Ukraine could secure their basic needs, including safe housing. NGOs, local officials and individual volunteers quickly mobilized to collect and distribute donations, including food, clothing, blankets and hygiene items. Medical staff provide first aid and volunteers share information about affordable housing and transportation for those wishing to travel abroad. Such assistance is available immediately after crossing the border in tents set up by humanitarian workers and volunteers; at large transport nodes, such as the station in Przemyśl; and in nearby temporary reception points. They were installed in converted shopping malls, municipal schools and unused buildings along the border at the initiative of local officials or private citizens.
Many Ukrainians hope that their displacement will be short, it may well be long. Thus, policymakers should take a long look at the development and implementation of measures that will promote the integration of Ukrainians into host communities. Adoption and application of TPD at the community level already lays the right foundation — regularizing the status of displaced persons and giving them access to education and employment respects their agency and promotes self-reliance and social cohesion. But additional support will be needed. Early access to language courses, recognition of foreign diplomas and professional licenses, as well as interaction with the private sector can facilitate the integration of refugees into Polish schools and the labor market. In interviews, stakeholders repeatedly noted that the high number of female-headed households also makes access to childcare a priority. Importantly, the European Commission aims to make more funding available to member states to fund such integration programs by extending the implementation period of certain funds in the 2014-2020 budget and adopting the new Cohesion's Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) program. Poland and other EU countries, including those that do not border Ukraine but are willing to accept refugees from there, should quickly take advantage of this to expand services and programs.
Ultimately, however, the arrival of millions of refugees in Poland is likely to strain its social and economic system. Representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UNHCR warned that Polish schools lack the capacity to quickly integrate such a large number of new students. In the short term, Ukrainian children have access to many distance learning tools that allow them to continue studying the Ukrainian curriculum, which is preferred by many families. But Poland will have to expand the capacity for children to transition to formal education in host countries.
At the same time, a regional decision is key to easing the pressure on countries of first arrival, such as Poland. While this was an obvious lesson from the 2015-2016 reception crisis, EU countries have failed to adopt a coherent regional approach to sharing protection responsibilities – until now. In addition to activating the TPD, the European Commission is creating a "Solidarity Platform" for Member States to share information on reception opportunities and thus identify the need for support before opportunities are exhausted. This could be used to coordinate refugee movements between member states, as well as from outside the EU, as in the case of the 250 refugees who traveled from Moldova to Romania, where they could be better accommodated.
Member States will inevitably need time to enact and implement national legislation implementing the TPD; for politicians and NGOs to develop and scale support for integration; and for those recently displaced to settle and find work. Cash assistance schemes are critical to bridging this gap. Because financial instability can leave people—especially women and children—vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, providing people with a source of income reduces protection risks.
Responding to Refugees in the Region
Each country receiving refugees from Ukraine will face somewhat different challenges and will have different options for responding. Moldova, for example, is not a member state of the EU and therefore cannot count on the same financial and technical support that can be provided by EU institutions Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and other countries of the region. However, an assessment of the initial response in Poland provides important lessons on how it and other host countries can strengthen their response and mitigate potential challenges.
Undoubtedly, the generous response mobilized in Poland is impressive and moving. But if it is not coordinated and professionalized, rooted in Polish civil society with the support of the international community, it risks becoming unsustainable and unscalable and creating unintended risks for protection. Robert, the de facto head of reception in Medicine said: “We need help. We need more capacity and logistical support from people who are engaged in such matters professionally." A core group of 10-15 volunteers did their best to make calls, connect people to resources and distribute the array of donated goods they received. But they were already exhausted after one week of effort, he said. This sentiment was shared by workers across the border, who were clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge and eager for reinforcements.
Indeed, volunteers have largely been the backbone of the effort so far, with provincial (voivodeship) governments offering varying levels of support—and in many ways catching up. A large temporary reception center set up in an abandoned shopping mall in Przemyśl, for example, began as a private effort to occupy an empty building and offer refugees a place to rest and recuperate before continuing their journey. A local resident, who owns an events and advertising company, obtained permission to use the space, notified city officials of his plans, and then began mobilizing others to provide donations and services.
The city of Lublin stands out as one place where municipal authorities are deeply involved in what appears to be a relatively coherent, coordinated response. On February 24, 2022, local public organizations together with the city of Lublin founded the Lublin Social Committee for Assistance to Ukraine. The committee has a 24-hour hotline and assistance center to provide refugees with information and services, including housing, food, legal assistance, psychological and medical support. Thousands of volunteers are involved, including Ukrainian residents of Lublin.
But the complex relationship between national, provincial and municipal authorities across Poland explains the marked differences in responses across the country. Local municipal authorities have independence and their own budget. Voivodeships responsible for receiving refugees often delegate responsibilities to these bodies on behalf of the national government — without necessarily providing adequate funding for their implementation. In addition, the national government and voivodships are mostly led by more conservative, nationalist parties, while municipal governments are more receptive to migrants and refugees. For example, in 2015 and 2021, local residents of Lublin were ready to host refugees from Syria and refugees from Belarus, respectively, but the national government's policy of blocking access to asylum prevented them from helping. There are differences between these levels of government and between regions.
Some aid workers feared that existing tensions between the national government and the UN could also undermine important cooperation. UN leaders condemned Poland's attitude towards migrants and refugees on the Belarusian border. In addition, some experts said the central government may be hesitant to allow UNHCR to play a leading role in the response because officials do not want Poland to be seen as a country of refugees and because of fears that this could signal that the government is unable to cope. with the situation. However, representatives of several UN agencies reported that their relationship with the government was positive. There was general optimism that the Polish authorities are committed to implementing an adequate response to all the people fleeing Ukraine, and recognition that the role of the UN is to support, not replace, the government. In turn, they emphasized that the key to an effective response is to provide the government with tools to increase its capacity.
Similarly, all stakeholders called for a response in local organizations. Poland has a strong civil society with many NGOs that have experience in humanitarian work and work with refugees and migrants. In Lublin, NGOs such as the Homo Faber Association, which organized to help people on the Polish-Belarusian border in 2021, naturally remobilized to help Ukrainians. Emergency response organizations such as the Polish Humanitarian Action (Polska Akcja Humanitarna, PAH) and the Polish Center for International Aid (Fundacja Polskie Centrum Pomocy Międzynarodowej, PCPM) have experience working in humanitarian situations around the world, including in Ukraine, and have expanded their efforts on providing assistance to refugees in Poland (as well as people still in Ukraine). Several stakeholders acknowledged that the response so far has been somewhat "messy" and is likely to remain so for some time to come — the speed and scale of displacement is an unprecedented challenge for NGOs, and many are unfamiliar with the language and processes of the UN system. But politicians, NGO representatives and UN officials emphasized that the solution was to empower local leadership by investing in the capacity of these organizations to develop such capacity and scale.
UN coordination processes are necessary to organize such a large, well-resourced response, but agencies say they are aware of the potential distortions they could create. A UNICEF representative, for example, noted that the simple fact of holding multi-stakeholder meetings in English rather than Polish would exclude some groups. The head of the NGO program, which is already a UN implementing partner, said that some colleagues from other organizations needed help in understanding UN funding mechanisms and coordination structures. But these obstacles are not insurmountable. Thus, the nascent RRP will be implemented through about 60 organizations, ranging from large UN agencies to small local Polish NGOs. The latter, the UNHCR representative noted, are particularly well-suited for promoting work on social cohesion, "opening the door" to people fleeing Ukraine. The UN's goal is rightly for a national actor to lead each sectoral response — only if no local actor has sufficient capacity will an international NGO be chosen. "Localization will be a key principle of the [Refugee Response Plan] in Poland, and we hope that this will be the focus of donors' attention," said a UNHCR representative. Some felt that the recent hasty trip by international organizations to Poland to conduct assessments and propose programs was unnecessary, as local actors already close to the situation are capable of such activities. Of course, international NGOs play a supporting role in helping local organizations develop and expand their capacities and expertise. But as one UN agency official put it, "We want to avoid piling up [foreign] organizations" and duplicating efforts. The role of the UN and the international community should be to "build on, not take away from" existing efforts.
UN officials also noted that the Polish government has the resources to fund the response at the national level and through EU financial support. However, the implementation of new regional mechanisms, such as the proposed Solidarity Platform, will take time. Thus, the value of the RRP is to quickly mobilize emergency funding and create some structure to respond, close the gap, until other mechanisms are in place.
This framework is also needed to strengthen grassroots reception efforts at the border and establish critical safeguards for people fleeing Ukraine. The response is not only under-resourced, as described earlier, but also unregulated and uncoordinated. At best, this creates what one UN official described as a level of "amateurism" that breeds inefficiency. A German realtor expressed his frustration that he was redirected three times and still does not know where to put his donations. At worst, this creates significant security risks.
In the rush to mobilize and engage these efforts, authorities have not had the time or capacity to implement a transparent registration and monitoring system to track who offers and accepts aid at reception points. This quickly led to concerns about the risk of human trafficking, exploitation and other violence, to which women and children are particularly vulnerable. A representative of UNICEF said that such a situation is a "trafficker's dream". Indeed, NGOs have reported that they are already receiving calls from Ukrainian women who fear offers of work or housing. Local authorities are reporting suspicious activity in border areas, and human rights activists are giving thanks for the hundreds of unaccompanied Ukrainian children who have gone missing. Some local authorities have begun to roll out registration procedures to screen, or at least track, those offering help. Even the volunteers said they were aware of the risk and were testing their own tracking processes. But efforts remain one-off and inconsistent across border points within Poland, and will need to be further linked to efforts across the region.
The challenge in Poland and other host countries will be to embrace and strengthen impressive volunteerism with good intentions, while protecting the rights and well-being of displaced people. A more structured response with appropriate oversight will also be essential to sustain, scale and adapt efforts. As in all displacement crises, the first refugees to flee Ukraine were mostly people who lived near the border, had financial means, and friends and family already abroad with whom they could stay. These people will not only have fewer humanitarian and financial needs, but will also integrate more easily into their host communities. However, the profile of people leaving Ukraine is already changing. “This is the front end of yet another wave of challenges fueled by real violence. Something is happening," warned a US military officer involved in coordinating the humanitarian response. Stakeholders need the ability to constantly monitor and quickly adapt to the changing needs of refugees. This includes initial reception assistance and more tailored integration support.
Non-Ukrainians fleeing Ukraine, also face greater obstacles during reception and integration.According to IOM estimates, in February 2022 there were more than 470,000 third-country nationals in Ukraine, including tens of thousands of foreign students, primarily from India, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Nigeria . As they joined those wishing to leave Ukraine, reports of discrimination immediately arose on both sides of the border. In Ukraine, they reported that people were being blocked from boarding trains leaving the country because Ukrainians were given priority. At the border, they reported brutal treatment and harassment by Polish border guards is long-lasting waiting in abnormal conditions. The authorities said that the problem is related to documents, since non-Ukrainians do not necessarily use the same visa-free regime as Ukrainians. They said that in this way these individuals faced "additional scrutiny", but in reality they were not returned and sent back to Ukraine. However, once in Poland, non-Ukrainians also reported that they were forced to pay for transport and other services that Ukrainians now receive for free.
One volunteer said that she saw how young non-Ukrainian men were forbidden to collect relief items at refugee reception centers. She noted that because non-Ukrainian men do not face the same restrictions on leaving as Ukrainian men, non-Ukrainians make up disproportionately more men among refugees. Fleeing alongside Ukrainian mothers, who are often single, the needs of the young men were dismissed or prioritized.
Officials of the UN, the EU and other leaders have publicly called for the EU to admit all those fleeing Ukraine, regardless of race or nationality. As noted, the EU requires member states to apply TPD or an alternative form of protection to third-country nationals who have fled Ukraine and cannot safely return to their countries of origin. But states have quite broad powers to implement this policy. Polish authorities have insisted publicly that they are letting everyone into Poland, and some agency officials have said that non-Ukrainians are now reporting that it is easy for them to cross the border. However, individual experiences are mixed, and some continue to report ill-treatment.
The Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine
Obstacles to an Effective Response
Even as states take responsibility for hosting refugees fleeing Ukraine—a challenge Europe can handle—they must address what looms as a far more formidable challenge: the dire humanitarian the situation in Ukraine. The conflict, and especially the Russian military's bombing of civilian facilities and the inability of civilians to escape or stay safe, has created a huge internal crisis.
International humanitarian demands and the response in Ukraine will depend on several possible scenarios over time. The Russian invasion and subsequent conflict may last for several months or more in one way or another. The parties may reach a settlement, which, in turn, will lead to significant and substantial reconstruction problems. Or Russian troops could occupy Ukraine's capital and most of the country — and possibly face continued resistance from the government and people of Ukraine.
In the Emergency Appeal of March 1 (created to address a three-month emergency in the country), UN officials clearly predicted the first scenario—an ongoing conflict. The Statement predicts that about 18 million people may be affected by the emergency. It aims to reach around 6 million people in Ukraine who are expected to have the most urgent humanitarian needs, including 2.1 million internally displaced persons. In its March 18 update, OCHA estimated that, in addition to the nearly one-quarter of the population already displaced internally or abroad, some 12 million people “are stuck in affected areas or unable to leave due to increased security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, and lack of resources or information about where to find safety and shelter.”
Several factors suggest that the dire forecasts reflected in the Emergency Appeal are justified and may actually be conservative. First, since the offensive of the Russian military was thwarted, they resorted to the tactics of encirclement and siege of urban settlements. This terrible tool of warfare causes immense suffering. People are increasingly cut off from basic essential services, including water, electricity and communications. Attacks by Russian troops on medical facilities also add to the suffering. On March 17, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that "WHO has verified 43 attacks on health facilities, resulting in 12 deaths and 34 injuries, including health workers." Finally, efforts to create safe corridors for the safe passage of civilians from conflict-affected areas are hampered by the ongoing lack of security.
Indeed, humanitarians have called for the creation of safe corridors to allow civilians to safely leave conflict zones without hindrance. UN Emergency Coordinator Martin Griffiths announced on March 7 that "millions of lives have been destroyed" and that cooperation is critical "to ensure the protection of civilians and maintain safe corridors for people fleeing violence and those delivering aid ". True, such corridors are associated with risk. The concept can be cynically manipulated, as was the case when Russian President Putin offered Ukrainians the opportunity to flee to Russia or its ally Belarus from the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv. And, of course, there were credible reports of continued Russian attacks on civilians trying to flee Ukraine.
As this report was being prepared for publication, there were several reports of some apparent progress on safe corridors. An Associated Press report dated March 19 stated that President Zelenskyi said in his address the day before that more than 9,000 people were able to leave the city of Mariupol in the past day and that more than 180,000 people were able to escape through corridors that were agreed with the Russians. On March 20, the website of the President of Ukraine published a message from Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk that as of March 20, 7 humanitarian corridors were agreed upon for the evacuation of residents and the sending of aid.
While donor governments have made it clear that they will generously support the relief efforts outlined in the Emergency Appeal, the real challenges will be access to communities to deliver aid and the ability of communities to flee areas of active conflict. In addition, the task of the UN and humanitarian partners is not only to restore the structures of humanitarian response in the east of Ukraine, which were damaged or destroyed, but also to expand the scale of the response to the entire country. In Poland, OCHA reported its presence in Ukraine before the recent escalation in the eastern regions. USAID's presence was also concentrated in the eastern part of the country, both in the Government Controlled Territories (GCT) and the Non-Government Controlled Territories (GNCT).
The task of creating a new nationwide humanitarian response structure would be difficult under any circumstances. This is complicated not only by Russia's ongoing attacks on civilians and civilian institutions, but also by the fact that many agencies will be operating in dangerous—and at least somewhat—unfamiliar environments.
Emerging framework for response
As of early March, OCHA remained part of the national coordination framework for which UNHCR assumed responsibility for refugee flows into Ukraine. At the same time, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator noted that the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), with the support of OCHA, agreed to "activate system-wide humanitarian scaling protocols" for Ukraine. These protocols represent a system-wide all-hands-on-deck humanitarian mobilization—and, in fact, many of the actions identified in these protocols, such as the development of the Emergency Appeal, have already been implemented.
The Secretary General has appointed Amin Awad, a UN official representative with many years of experience at UNHCR, to the post of UN Crisis Coordinator in Ukraine. It has overall responsibility for the UN response in the country, including the humanitarian system (under the overall leadership of the UN Emergency Coordinator at UN Headquarters). In short, he is the highest UN official in Ukraine, both in the GUT and in the NGUT.
The UN Resident Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, Osnat Lubrani, who has been working in Ukraine since mid-2018, will continue in this role and support the Crisis Coordinator. In addition, the UN appointed the deputy humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Markus Vernet.
On the ground in Ukraine, the UN and humanitarian partners are developing nationwide response strategies with a territorial model of coordination at the level of the region (administrative division), in which the coordination centers are either from the UN system or from NGOs, depending on which region has the strongest presence, will be supported by a country-based cluster system. It is reported that the Government of Ukraine has created a Coordination Center for Humanitarian and Social Issues, which will cooperate with international organizations and non-governmental organizations, and the Cabinet of Ministers will also cooperate with donors, diplomatic missions and international organizations on the coordination of humanitarian aid.
West Support cannot yet give a general assessment of international efforts to provide humanitarian aid and support to Ukrainian state bodies. Reports emerging from the field indicate that a number of providers in areas such as health, housing and education have been actively involved in a range of activities to provide emergency aid and services. Importantly, the Cash in Ukraine Working Group (CWG), established in 2016 under the chairmanship of OCHA and ACTED, has also been strengthened. Responding to the preferences of affected people, HCT will use multi-purpose cash as the preferred/default way, where operationally feasible, to scale up assistance. The OCHA representative emphasized the importance of continuing to work through local NGOs as implementing partners.
In any case, aid delivery efforts will continue to face significant obstacles, including ongoing hostilities that prevent the free movement of service providers and supplies. This underscores the most important imperative for effective humanitarian aid efforts in Ukraine: the need to ensure effective and sustained humanitarian access, which will only be possible through cooperation with local organizations with experience on the ground.
War crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine
West Support is convinced that the Russian military and the Russian government are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. The Russian government and military leadership must be held accountable for a wide range of widespread, indiscriminate and apparently brutal, deliberate and unprovoked attacks on civilians and civilian institutions in Ukraine.
Reference: Laws of War
Civilian suffering is the tragic cost of armed conflict. And the death of the civilian population during the conflict, although deeply regrettable, in itself is not a violation of international humanitarian law, that is, the law of armed conflicts. But there are a wide range of legal requirements for the protection of civilians during armed conflict that the Russian military and its civilian leadership, and especially President Putin, are obligated to uphold — and which they have unjustifiably neglected.
In particular, there are the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Population in Time of War, based on centuries of practice, discussions between governments and the development of accepted norms regarding armed conflicts. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and civilian institutions, violations of which constitute war crimes. The principle of proportionality, reflected in Article 51(5)(b) of the First Protocol (1977) to the Conventions, prohibits attacks “which are expected to result in the accidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects or their combination, which would be excessive in relation to the specific and expected direct military advantage." Although most experts recognize the difficulty of determining what civilian casualties may be excessive in relation to a military objective, there is no doubt that attacking or terrorizing civilians in order to force political leaders to submit to demands for surrender is not only grotesque, but also a gross violation laws of war.
As a party to the four Geneva Conventions and the first two protocols to the conventions, Russia must uphold the protections they provide. In addition, the treaty's relevant provisions regarding indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians are widely recognized as customary international humanitarian law, and therefore “apply to all parties to the conflict, regardless of whether they have ratified treaties containing the same or similar provisions. »
More recently, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a treaty adopted at the United Nations Conference of States in July 1998, builds on previous treaties and new norms to define both war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Article 8 of the Rome Statute contains a detailed definition/examples of acts that constitute war crimes and that are relevant to the reported Russian military activities in Ukraine, including, among other abuses, large-scale destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out illegally and without justification; deliberately targeting the civilian population or individual civilians who do not directly participate in hostilities, or civilian objects; deliberately committing an attack knowing that it will cause accidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and serious damage to the natural environment, which would be manifestly excessive in relation to the specific and direct general expected military advantage; attack or bombard unprotected cities, villages, houses or buildings that are not military objects; and the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all similar liquids, materials or devices.
Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines "crimes against humanity" as acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack, and includes, among other abuses, killing, forced displacement by exile or other forced actions, deliberate creation of living conditions designed to destroy part of the population; and other inhuman acts of a similar nature, which intentionally cause great suffering or serious injury to the body or mental or physical health.
The Case of the ICC and Ukraine
Although it has the legal authority to prosecute and sentence Russian leaders, the ICC's practical ability to enforce and prosecute is highly questionable. Despite this, the ICC and its prosecutor play a key role in emphasizing the importance of upholding the basic rights of civilians at risk in Ukraine.
According to Article 12(2) of the Statute of the ICC, the Court can exercise jurisdiction if the state in whose territory the suspected violation occurs is a party to the treaty. Neither the government of Russia nor the government of Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute. However, Article 12(3) provides that any government may recognize the Court's jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute specific acts that took place within its territory. This is exactly what the government of Ukraine did in 2014 and again in 2015, calling for a review of Russia's actions surrounding the occupation of Crimea. In 2014, Ukraine recognized the jurisdiction of the Court "For the purpose of establishing, bringing to criminal responsibility and sentencing perpetrators and accomplices of acts committed on the territory of Ukraine in the period from November 21, 2013 to February 22, 2014." In 2015, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin, sent another official message to the ICC, stating that Ukraine recognizes the Court's jurisdiction over "actions committed on the territory of Ukraine since February 20, 2014."
Based on the authority provided by this latest statement, and guided by “growing concern […] about the events taking place in Ukraine”, the Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim A. A. Khan, announced on February 28, 2022 that he would indeed open an investigation:
…. I am convinced that there are sufficient grounds to believe that both the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Ukraine in relation to events already assessed during the Office's preliminary review. Given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, I intend for this investigation to also cover any new alleged crimes under the jurisdiction of my Office, committed by any party to the conflict in any part of the territory of Ukraine.
On March 2, the United Kingdom government announced that it, along with nearly 40 other countries, had referred the case of Russian war crimes in Ukraine to the ICC in order to speed up the prosecutor's investigation. Also, on March 2, the prosecutor of the ICC stated directly that he is also ready to investigate whether genocide took place. This crime, also defined in the Rome Statute, includes murder and a number of other offensive acts "committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
The humanitarian challenges facing people in Ukraine and refugees displaced to countries in the region are alarming and complex. As the situation in Ukraine continues to evolve, governments, UN agencies and civil society must work together to ensure a generous response. It is extremely important that the rights and protection of civilians fleeing Ukraine and those who remain within its borders are respected.