4. People crowd under a bridge as they try to flee across the Irpin River on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine

Emergency Actions in the War in Ukraine: the Role of State and Non-State Organizations in Supporting Internally Displaced Persons


Prof Yevgen Gerasymenko, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

This post follows the author’s research stay at Edinburgh Law School in June 2023. The visit was funded by Research England, on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of a wider University of Edinburgh-Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv twinning arrangement.


On June 6, the Educational and Scientific Institute of Law of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and the School of Law of the University of Edinburgh organized the round table aimed to discuss the issues of the state and civil society response to emergency situations of internal displacement during a large-scale war. The mentioned event was held within the framework of the joint project “Labs4Twinned Research” in the context of the cooperation agreement signed by Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and the University of Edinburgh.

The Russian Federation full-scale war against Ukraine started on February 24, 2022 caused serious repercussions in several areas. One of them was an estimated 11 million people forced to leave their homes and seek protection both abroad and within the territory of Ukraine. Official statistics provides for about 4,9 mln. registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine[1] including 3,5 mln. replaced after 24th of February 2022. But estimations at least double this number. Therefore, it is very important to investigate the emergency response provided for internally displaced persons through the analysis of what has been and is being carried out in terms of humanitarian aid by state and non-state actors as the emergency actions. This analysis was made by the international team leaded by the author of this blogpost[2].

General standards for the IDPs protection are established by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998), The Pinheiro Principles (2005), the  Framework for National Responsibility (2005), Council of Europe Recommendation (2006[3], Manual for Legislators and Policy  Makers (2008) and the UNCHR  Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons (2010). Despite not-binding nature of these documents Ukraine along with the majority countries of the world implemented most of state obligation into the national legislation.

The Law of Ukraine “On ensuring of rights and freedoms of internally displaced persons” (hereinafter “IDP law”) was adopted in 2014 in response to a mas influx of IDPs primarily from the Crimea and conflict-torn areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Law, inter alia, (1) set a definition of IDP; (2) detailed the registration procedure, (3) established some instruments for the IDPs rights protection.

These standards in relation to the state emergency response provide inter alia for: decent shelter, collecting and maintaining data and statistics on needs of IDPs, coordination by the specially designed agency, procedures of seeking and accepting support, identification and prioritization.

Analysis of reports, articles, databases and other relevant documents demonstrates slow response of the State of Ukraine during first days of the full-scale Russian aggression 24th of February, 2022 to provide protection and support for persons escaping from the battle-zone. However, civil society, through its various forms of action, has maintained an essential role in the provision of humanitarian aid services.

At the early beginning the state was not prepared to provide the urgent immediate actions despite that IDPs phenomena was existing since 2014. In this situation of lack of state support, one should note phenomenal first response of civil society, individual actions and initiatives, established and coordinated horizontally. Therefore, temporary solutions of shelter and basic needs were offered mostly by the non-state actors, overcoming inefficiency of coordination, organization and financial resources.

Lack of access to information on evacuation, shelter and other social needs especially within the most vulnerable groups of population were noted as one of the factors that caused many deaths and injuries during first weeks of war.

Nevertheless, despite limited resources state actors made enormous efforts to adapt their operations to the situation in few weeks.  “Ukrzaliznytsia”, a national railroad operator, introduced free “evacuation” trains that became the main tool of facilitating evacuation in the country-wide scale. Two weeks after the full scale war started it was decided that in case local state authorities are unable to pay socials such payments will be done by the central office. State introduced one-time payments of about 150 Euros to the ny paperwork.

To guarantee and facilitate rights of IDPs and first of all need to be protected by its state it is recommended that the United Nations is to consider instruments to establish and maintain humanitarian corridors as one of several possible ways to temporarily stop armed conflict. In this regard specific routes and logistical methods should be agreed by all relevant parties to allow the safe passage of humanitarian goods and/or people from one point to another in an active combat area. Another possible way to ensure freedom of movement to the safe parts of the state demilitarized zones in a specific area and could be agreed upon for a specific period of time. In this regard United Nations is generally the body responsible for negotiating the conditions for the implementation of humanitarian corridors. Humanitarian corridors are specific routes and logistical methods agreed upon by all relevant parties to allow the safe passage of humanitarian goods and/or people from one point to another in an area of active fighting, under UN leadership. As an example, such humanitarian corridors were established by several resolutions of the UN Security Council as the UN Safe Areas in 1993 in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War. On the UN level it is recommended to develop and sign binding instrument (Convention) on IDPs establishing inter alia obligation and responsibility of the states to ensure implementation and enforcement of the movement related rights; to put all administrative efforts to organise evacuation of civilians, to organise humanitarian corridors; to introduce national emergency legislation. At the state level, it is recommended that the Government of Ukraine empower one of the Ministries for coordination of the IDPs protection; to stimulate development of the civil society institutions; to allocate resources for the IDPs rights protection, implementation and enforcement.

Unfortunately, the current situation in the World and number of conflicts caused thousands of deaths of civilians prove that humanity is not ready for total disallowance of armed conflicts as one of the conflict resolution instruments. But we believe that progressive society should made all efforts to exclude deaths and minimize suffering of civilians after these conflicts.



[1] https://www.msp.gov.ua/timeline/Vnutrishno-peremishcheni-osobi.html#:~:text=Початок%20активних%20бойових%20дій%20після,досягає%204%2C9%20млн%20осіб.

[2] Kristine Bdoyan, Yevgen Gerasymenko, Volha Khvasevich, Oleksandr Kyselov and Nuno Oliveira. “Emergency response to the war in Ukraine: The role of state and non-state actors in supporting IDPs.” (2022) 6 Global Campus Human Rights Journal 115-136

[3] Recommendation Rec(2006)6 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on internally displaced persons https://rm.coe.int/16806b5aaf

Image: People crowd under a bridge as they try to flee across the Irpin River on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 5. Emilio Morenatti/AP