Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The Living Nightmare in Ukraine: Europe’s Latest Refugee Crisis



Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Dr Anastasia Tataryn. Anastasia is a faculty member at St Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Published articles include From Social Movement to Legal Form’” on Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and “Unrecognised States” on international law and the annexation of Crimea (with Erdem Ertürk). Her book, Law Migration and Precarious Labour was published by Routledge in 2021. For more information on Ukraine and links to Ukrainian civil society and humanitarian groups, see here


What would you do with the choice: stay amidst the bombing, consistent air raids, a bombed nuclear power plant, and the promise (from Putin) of obliteration? Would you gather bottles to make Molotov cocktails, knowing the futility of civilians’ actions against the Russian military, while spending nights sheltering in a cold winter basement with your neighbours and family? Or would you try to leave? With young children? With aged parents? Grandparents? Babies? Knowing that your father, your son, your brother, your husband, your best friend, or you yourself must stay and be separated from your loved ones?

What would you do?

According to estimates published by the UNHRC on March 4, over 1,200,000 have left Ukraine since February 24th, when Russia’s full-scale, coordinated invasion on airports and cities, including missile strikes on hospitals, orphanages, schools and apartment buildings began. With no end in sight to Russia’s aggression and commitment to ‘neutralise’/de-militarise Ukraine, and Putin promising on March 3 that ‘the worst is yet to come’, it is believed that the refugees fleeing Ukraine could reach up to 4 million. The International Organisation of Migration has stated that over 470,000 third country nationals in Ukraine, including many overseas students and labour migrants, are currently stranded, trying to find safe passage to Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Primarily occupied with fighting off Russian military attacks, Ukraine has no means through which to provide separate exit corridors for foreign nationals, but neither is Ukraine officially playing any part in selecting who can enter another nation-state. Ukraine is not limiting exit from the country, aside from restricting the possibility, due to martial law and mobilisation requirements, for male Ukrainian nationals ages 18-60 to leave.

The refugee crisis of people fleeing Russian military aggression against Ukraine once again lays bare the inadequacies, to put it mildly, of refugee protection and cross-border migration law and policy. The footage of Black and Asian students being refused entry onto trains, refused border-crossing and subjected to racist, violent attacks from Polish nationalists and allegations of similar treatment from Ukrainian authorities illustrates the chaotic subjectivity that allows individuals, and individual countries, to exercise racist and discriminatory selection. Moreover, the language of the European Union (EU) temporary protection Directive potentially does not afford third country nationals who have moved to Ukraine in recent years the same protections as Ukrainian citizen nationals (noting that temporary protection is afford to ‘persons leaving their country or region of origin’). Nevertheless, the EU has opened its borders to refugees fleeing Ukraine in a move that is both necessary and largely unavoidable, seeing as Ukraine is a country bordering the EU – where else are people to go?

Ukrainians and Ukrainian municipalities did not know that this violence would happen in such a coordinated, quick and violent way, yet statements largely propagated by Russian sources, accuse Ukrainians of being inherently racist, fascist and xenophobic. As much as we may wish for goodness and generosity to prevail, xenophobic nationalist sentiments that have been circulating in most European nations for the past decade have not dissipated with this crisis. This is evident where entry into Europe is privileged for white, ostensibly Christian bodies and denied to all other bodies. The provision of food, shelter and transportation for refugees fleeing Ukraine facilitated by the European Travel Commission has been criticised for its contrast to Europe’s treatment, or rather neglect, of refugees from North Africa and Syria arriving to European shores and land borders. The response currently being experienced by Ukrainian refugees should, and must, be extended to all persons seeking refuge no matter their race, skin colour, religion, ability or country of origin.

Recognition of the deep roots of systemic racism and xenophobia that are embedded in immigration and citizenship laws, and resistance to the perpetuation of exclusionary, restrictive, protection for persons fleeing war can, and must, exist simultaneously with gratitude to the people, companies and countries who are opening their homes to those fleeing the madness of Putin’s war on Ukraine. Putin’s violence is not limited to Ukraine, including Crimea, but extends to his imperialist claims over former Soviet states (denying the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia) and repression of all domestic opposition to his regime within Russia

It will be our work in the months and years ahead to demand that this current collective European response to refugees entering the European Union become the norm rather than the exception. In the face of refugee, immigration and citizenship laws that have primarily functioned to deny refugee protection and prioritize “worthy” citizen-nationals (see Bridget Anderson’s exemplary work), we must allow ourselves to empathise with the horror unfolding in Ukraine and Russia, first. Secondly, we analyse. And third, we use legal expertise to fight restrictive refugee and immigration policies. We oppose both unbridled military aggression and the systemic racism that permeates modern legal systems. We commit to integrity and kindness and to upholding the validity of democracy in the face of dictatorship. And we protect those being targeted whether they’ve been on the land for multiple generations or mere months.


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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Tataryn, A. (2022) The Living Nightmare in Ukraine: Europe’s Latest Refugee Crisis. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2022/03/living-nightmare [date]

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