TCUP Briefs

In our TCUP Briefs series, Dr. Emily Channell-Justice, director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program, shares key insights and questions from recent presentations and papers on the war in Ukraine.

Note: The font used in our TCUP Briefs cover image was selected for its Ukraine connection. Misto font is a free reverse-contrast display typeface inspired by Slavutych — the youngest city of Ukraine, which was born after the Chornobyl explosion. 


See also: TCUP, Ukraine crisis

How Many Ukrainian Refugees Are in Poland?

This Brief examines the challenges of keeping an accurate count of the number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Even as Russia's assault on Ukraine continues, some Ukrainians are returning to their homes. Other refugees left Ukraine through Poland before venturing to another country. Humanitarian efforts, including those supported by governments, require up-to-date information about refugees, their plans, and their needs.


Hi. This is Emily Channel Justice, the Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

This is TCUP Briefs, where I discuss the main takeaways of an important event where paper that has come out recently. Today, I want to discuss an article from Notes from Poland by Szymon Pifczyk that addresses the question of how many Ukrainian refugees are there really in Poland?

This question is important because figures about the sheer number of refugees are regularly being cited in the press and in academic publications. Currently, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counts the number of refugee arrivals from Ukraine since February 24th at 7 million people. Although there has been a dramatic decline in the number of arrivals since the end of May, the UNOCHA also counts nearly 3.7 million Ukrainians in Poland.

When the war first began, some experts were stressing that the main problem with counting movement was with internally displaced people, so people who never crossed the border to leave Ukraine. A lot of those people couldn't or didn't register with displaced status, so it made it difficult to know precisely how many people were internally displaced. And that continues to be a problem.

Many people concluded, however, that counting refugees was easier because you could simply count border crossings. Now, over three months into the war, we have to remember that this is a border, so crossing it can mean many things. The article in Notes from Poland points out that every single crossing was counted to get to that number of 3.7 million people.

That can include not only refugees, but also humanitarian aid workers who are counting as a crossing every time they go to and from Ukraine. This also includes things like the heads of the Polish government or other leaders who cross the particular border into Ukraine and then left again. It's also important to note that some days more Ukrainians are returning to Ukraine than entering Poland at all.

So there has been a dramatic shift in the huge numbers of refugees that were coming into Poland at the beginning of the war. Furthermore, many Ukrainians go to Poland and then leave for other countries. Ukrainian refugees up until now have been able to access free transportation from Warsaw and into other parts of Europe since the war began. The author of the Notes from Poland article argues that a better way to assess the number of refugees in Poland is through the Polish National Identification Number or PESEL.

Ukrainians were allowed to register for a PESEL number and a special status as Ukrainian refugees to aid their integration into Poland because it allowed them to work and allowed their children to go to school. As of April 25th, over 1 million Ukrainians had registered for a PESEL and the vast majority, unsurprisingly, were women between the ages of 18 and 65 and children.

In some ways, the number of Ukrainians registering for a PESEL could be a more accurate measure. But we also have to keep in mind that many people are returning, so it's possible that people actively decided not to register for a PESEL because they never intended to stay in Poland for very long.

We can guess that the people who registered for a PESEL are more likely to stay in Poland. They are not likely to move on to other parts of Europe and potentially they are unlikely to return to Ukraine as well.

So what happens with the other 2.7 million people in Poland who did not register for a PESEL number? We're not really sure. And that makes that distribution of aid very difficult. We can't be sure if they've settled somewhere else in Europe or if they've returned to Ukraine.

And that's what makes humanitarian need so difficult to assess. Needs are constantly shifting. The number of people who need a certain thing is constantly shifting. And what those people need is also constantly shifting.

There's been a shifting response from the Polish government as well. Whereas on the one hand the Polish government decided not to open refugee camps in order to help people better integrate into Polish society, now it's difficult to know how long the Polish government can sustain this large number of Ukrainian refugees. The Polish government may certainly start to encourage people to return home as soon as they can.

Unfortunately, as long as the war goes on, there will still be people who need to get to safety and who will probably continue to come to Poland. It's important to keep in mind that we need to constantly reassess the questions about refugees as well as internally displaced people. Their needs are constantly shifting and the response from the Ukrainian and the Polish government, as well as the governments that are receiving large numbers of refugees around Ukraine, is important to keep in mind.

Thanks so much for tuning in.

Referenced Links

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For more information about internally displaced people, especially before the 2022 invasion, see our TCUP Report series on IDPs.

Humanitarianism and the War in Ukraine: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Ground? (recorded panel)

TCUP Brief 4: When Did Russia's War Begin?

This Brief summarizes key points of a panel held by the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota, "The War in Ukraine and the Refugee Crisis: History and Present."

When did this war actually begin? Why is Russian propaganda making false allegations of genocide and Naziism? How has the war affected Ukrainians' lives and attitudes toward Russia?


Referenced Links


Hi, this is Emily Channell-Justice, the Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This is TCUP Briefs, where I discussed the main takeaways of an event or publication related to the war in Ukraine.

Today I'd like to talk about an event that was hosted by the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota.

This panel was entitled, “The War, Ukraine and the Refugee Crisis: History and Present. It featured four speakers: John-Paul Himka, Oxana Shevel, Raphi Rechitsky, and Elizabeth Dunn. 

These panelists did a fantastic job of bringing the past and the present together, but there was one particular point that really stood out to me, which was the question of when did this war actually begin?

Elizabeth Dunn has said more than once that the war actually began – or Russia's war actually began – in 2008. And she looks at it this way, because that was the year that Russia invaded Georgia. John-Paul Himka added, however, in a very interesting framing of the problem, that 2008 isn't just the invasion of Georgia; it's also when the United States recognized the independence of Kosovo.

So this should remind us that Putin views the Russian invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk – both invasions, the one in 2014 and the one in 2022 – as having the same justification as the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and of Western support for Kosovo's independence.

Elizabeth Dunn has actually made this connection before, in a 2014 paper co-authored with Michael Bobick. Using the language of Responsibility to Protect, the United States and allies intervened in the Balkans and supported Kosovo's declaration of independence. 

Putin claims to be intervening in Donetsk and Luhansk for the same reasons. Of course, we know that Putin’s claims are not based on reality. 

Ukrainians were not committing genocide against the people in those occupied territories as Putin has claimed. The 2022 invasion was absolutely unprovoked and indeed it has made the conditions of people living in the Donbass now dramatically worse than when it began.

Professor Rechitsky discussed the fact that many of the people who remained in Donbas were disabled people and their families, and they stayed because it was easier to access certain social services there.  Now we can't know anything about their current conditions, but we have to guess their lives have not improved, and in fact it's probably worsened dramatically since February.

Oxana Shevel left us with a takeaway about how Russia’s invasion has made Ukraine more anti-Russian than ever before. While perhaps previously these Russian perspectives, including this idea about Responsibility to Protect and fighting against NATO expansion, previously those ideas might have had some resonance in Ukraine, but now, Russia has pushed Ukraine further away from it than ever.

Thanks so much to the panelists who were in a really interesting conversation together and who brought their different perspectives in a wonderful discussion. Thanks so much for tuning in.

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TCUP Brief 3: Russia's War Crimes in Ukraine

This Brief examines reports of war crimes committed during Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and assault on Ukrainian cities. What constitutes a war crime? If war crimes exist, can they be prosecuted? Will Putin and Russian soldiers be held responsible? TCUP Briefs will return to this topic as the facts come to light in besieged cities like Bucha and Mariupol.


Referenced Links


Hi, this is Emily Channell-Justice. I'm the director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This is TCUP Briefs where I talk about the main takeaways of a recent event or publication about the war in Ukraine.

In today's Brief, I want to address the question of war crimes. This is something that has been in the news regularly since the liberation of Bucha by the Ukrainian forces in early April.

So far, we know that there were at least 300 people killed in Bucha, a place with no military targets to speak of.

We know hundreds more civilian deaths in nearby towns, such as Irpin and Borodianka, are being discovered now.

We do not yet know the death toll among civilians in Mariupol, which has been under siege since the end of February. Local authorities estimate that up to 22,000 civilians could have been killed, but we can't know for sure.

Even before the rest of the world started to see evidence of mass civilian casualties in Bucha, the United Nations established an independent panel to investigate war crimes in Ukraine on March 30. US President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a war criminal, and the United States also accused Russia of war crimes. 

So the question now is what constitutes a war crime, and how can war crimes be prosecuted.

According to an article in Wall Street Journal, war crimes are broadly defined and and include willfully killing or causing suffering, widespread destruction, seizing a property, deliberately targeting civilian populations, in addition to other serious violations of laws applicable in armed conflict.

The International Criminal Court also prosecutes three other main offenses: crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression.

Karim Khan, an ICC prosecutor, said that there was already a reasonable basis to believe that both war crimes and crimes against humanity had taken place in Ukraine.

The crime of aggression is the resort to war in violation of the United Nation’s Charter. Because this war was entirely unprovoked by Ukraine, Putin's actions here qualify as a crime of aggression.

However, all of this evidence –  so both the decision to go to war being a crime of aggression and the evidence of war crimes that have been committed in Ukraine –  does not mean that war crimes can easily be prosecuted. Neither Ukraine nor Russia is party to the International Criminal Court and, by the way, neither is the United States or China.
Ukraine has allowed the ICC jurisdiction to bring its own case against Russia. In other words, Ukraine can't refer alleged crimes to the Court but the ICC can investigate crimes itself.

The ICC can also charge Putin and other Russian authorities, but they cannot be tried in absentia, and because neither Russia nor Ukraine is a signatory to the Rome statute, Russia and Putin can't be charged with a crime of aggression, at this point.

Despite these limitations, the ICC was actually already investigating Russia for war crimes in Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In 2018 the courts prosecutor stated that there was a reasonable basis that war crimes have been committed in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions—including torture, rape, and the intentional targeting of civilians. 

Now we have additional evidence of all of these war crimes having taken place since February of 2022, not just in Bucha, but in many places across Ukraine.

The ICC can now issue a warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders. However, it is unlikely that Putin would be turned over to the ICC, while he's still in power, and it would have to be Russians turning over to the ICC.

As I mentioned before, he cannot be tried in absentia, and because Russia remains on the UN Security Council, they can also veto any moves by the UN to refer a war crimes case to the ICC.

So, right now, this does not leave a lot of room for Russia and Putin to be held accountable, but it's really important that evidence gathering takes place. It's really important that the United States has declared Russia having committed war crimes, because that encourages the United States to support Ukraine's efforts in gathering evidence.
The ICC has to be ready for any potential opening to hold Russian leaders accountable and their commitment to this gathering of evidence of war crimes does show that international institutions are supporting Ukraine.

This topic will be one that TCUP Briefs returns to as new evidence continues to come to light. 

Thanks so much for tuning in.

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ФІКСАЦІЯ ВОЄННИХ ЗЛОЧИНІВ РОСІЙСЬКОЇ ФЕДЕРАЦІЇ (explanation of war crimes; form to submit evidence of war crimes)

Bellingcat map of incidents that have resulted in potential civilian impact or harm since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine

ACAPS data dashboard on humanitarian access violations and infrastructure damages

Physicians for Human Rights statement against "the wanton aggression, indiscriminate attacks, and violence against civilians perpetrated by the Russian Federation during its ongoing unlawful invasion of Ukraine"

FRONTLINE/ AP War Crimes Watch

TCUP Brief 2: The Roots of Russia's Assault on Ukraine

In this Brief, Emily Channell-Justice looks back at Paul D'Anieri's 2019 publication, Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, which traces the development of Ukraine, Russia, and their relationship since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia's claims of NATO expansion as a security threat, its view of its place as a global power, as well as the divergence of politics in Ukraine and Russia (Ukraine moving toward democracy and the EU; Russia moving to autocracy) began in 1991, sparked the 2014 war, and fueled the full-scale invasion of 2021.

Referenced Links


Hi, this is Emily Channell-Justice, director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

This is TCUP Briefs where I discuss the main takeaways of an event or publication related to the war in Ukraine. Today I'd like to go back a little bit to a publication about the bigger picture between Russia and Ukraine, and what led up to the work that's happening now.

If you've been following TCUP, you know that our first TCUP Reads Book Club book was Paul D’Anieri’s Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War. This book came out in 2019 and it's a really helpful book that discusses how we got to where we are.

Even though that book was really about the war that began in 2014, it's very relevant to the war that continues today.

This book talks a lot about how the Cold War ended in 1991 and a new world was established in which Ukraine and Russia had different ideas of what the status quo should be.

This book considers both internal and external politics in Ukraine, as well as in Russia, to think about the relationship between these two countries, as well as actors, like the United States, European Union, and NATO.

The book’s bottom line is that Ukraine's shift to democracy was incompatible with Russia’s view of itself as a global and regional power. In other words, Russia wanted to remain an important regional player at the same time that Ukraine wanted to either have a multivector foreign policy, where they balanced economic and political relations with Russia and the European Union or, as we saw in the 2010s and later, Ukraine really turned more fully to the European Union.

At the same time that this was happening, Western countries really were orienting themselves towards integrating Russia into the global economy. Now we know that this was a very flawed way to treat Russia after the end of the Soviet Union.

One of the other mistakes many academics have made is continuing to call Russia a democracy or some kind of hybrid democracy; we now know that that was actually obfuscating the way that Russia was increasingly authoritarian since 2000 when Putin came into power.

By calling Russia a democracy, many Western actors were hoping that that would kind of indicate that it would follow the principle that democracies don't go to war with each other, which is a common principle that is used to explain geopolitics and political science. If we assume that Russia is a democracy that means they're less likely to do something like attack Ukraine.

But we know now, and we probably knew then, that Russia really wasn't a democracy and so looking a little bit at those internal politics helps us understand why Russia's own view of itself as an important global power and regional power made it justify its political moves to invade Ukraine.

Certainly, there are some limits to this book because it didn't predict the war, though the conclusion is very open ended. In retrospect, I think it gives a little too much validity to Russia's security claims, such as NATO expansion, that are now being used to justify an absolutely unprovoked war.

But the thing that's most interesting in this book is that it shows how these claims didn't originate in 2022 and they don't even originate in 2014.

Russia's claims about its security and the way that NATO threatened its security actually go all the way back to 1991 and the end of the Cold War. It seems like Russia hasn't really changed its idea of its position in the world and its relationship with Ukraine since then, while Ukraine has moved away from Russia and autocracy and more toward democracy, toward NATO and toward Europe. 

This book also shows the chronology of Ukrainian internal politics, going from the Kuchma years and then the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan, and it looks at how these events change Ukraine's internal politics to move toward a democracy, and it also looks at Russia's and Western responses to all of these events.

None of these things really justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but they set us up to better understand how long this conflict has been brewing and what Russia considered a red line in terms of Ukraine's own security interests.

This book is a really excellent example of very thorough research over many years that explains why this conflict is such an important geopolitical event at the same time that it allows us to explore Ukraine's internal and domestic politics in a way that really enlightened why Ukraine is where it is right now.

I highly encourage you to read this book. I'll actually be teaching it this summer in my summer course and I'm really glad that Paul D’Anieri did such a fantastic job so that we can have this foundation to better understand Ukraine’s and Russia's relationship with one another and with the world. 

Thanks so much for tuning in.

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TCUP Brief 1: A Closer Look at IDP and Refugee Estimates

This Brief presents two major challenges to quantifying Ukraine's humanitarian crisis that experts presented at the ASN event, "Russian Invasion and Internal Displacement: Emerging IDP issues within Ukraine" (March 17, 2022).

Speakers: Cynthia Buckley (U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA), Volodymyr Dubovyk (Mechnikov National U, Ukraine), Oksana Mikheieva (Catholic U, Ukraine). Moderated by Oxana Shevel (Tufts U, USA).

Referenced Links

ASN event; watch the full video

UN Statistics (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

Volodymyr Dubovyk's recent article on IDPs 


Hi, this is Emily Channell-Justice, the Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. This is the first installment of TCUP Briefs where I discuss the main takeaways from an important event or a paper that has come out sometime recently.

Today I’m here to talk about at a virtual ANS event which was called, “The Russian Invasion and Internal Displacement: Emerging IDP Issues within Ukraine.” This talk featured three experts, Dr Cynthia Buckley, Dr Oksana Mikheieva, and Dr Volodymyr Dubovyk. Two of them are scholars who are based in Ukraine, but all of them have extensive experience with research on internal displacement within Ukraine in the past eight years.

The things that they talked about that were the most important, and I think significant in terms of moving forward, is the main challenges in counting the number of people who have been displaced from the current conflict.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the estimated refugee arrivals from Ukraine as of March 30, 2022 is already 4 million people. That's 4 million Ukrainians, about 10% of the population who have already left Ukraine and crossed an international border. The estimated internally displaced people in Ukraine as of March 16, 2022 is six and a half million people.

But this number is really hard to guess at, and the reason is because different regions in Ukraine have different levels of access. What I mean by that is that there's a lot more information about the people who are gathered in Western Ukraine, in cities like Lviv, for instance. And it's a lot harder to get to places like Mariupol, Kherson, or cities in the far eastern regions that are currently under siege. We don't know how many people from those places have left their homes.

The other question that was brought up in this panel that was really important is another thing that we're missing, which is who becomes an IDP or an internally displaced person and who is homeless, and how do we assess the difference in that.

That is, some people have left their homes, just because it's unsafe and they want to move to a safer location, but some people have left their homes because their homes were destroyed: they are homeless.

How do we actually account for the number of people who are displaced for these different reasons? This is another figure that's really hard to guess at because we don't have access to a lot of the regions where all the conflict is happening.

Those are some of the things that make it really challenging to count the number of displaced people. We also know that so far the demographics of refugees are mostly women and children, but we don't know about the internally displaced population, because the men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country, but they are allowed to move within the country.

So we know that there's been a huge number of displaced people, but they're really hard to count. It's really hard to assess the number of people who remain in Ukraine: Who remains, why do they remain, and do they have a home to go back to ultimately? These questions are going to be really important moving forward and these experts made some important interventions, as we are just now starting to assess the gravity of the war.

We will be linking through the TCUP website to some of their publications, as they come out.

Thanks so much for tuning in.

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