In Focus

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a year of great uncertainty

26 April 2023


2022 was defined by a new chapter of interstate war in Europe – with far-reaching consequences for Ukraine itself as well as neighbouring countries and even those on the other side of the globe. The war has shaped, and will continue to shape, ICMPD’s work and support to Member States and partners. 

By Caitlin Katsiaficas, Irina Lysak and Nesrine Ben Brahim

2022 was a turbulent year for Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marking a new chapter of interstate war. The invasion has spurred the largest and fastest displacement in Europe since the Second World War, the effects of which have been felt widely. National administrations across Europe have taken on the sizable task of providing protection and related services to millions of new arrivals – an endeavour in which regional and international coordination has been significant and invaluable. The war has stoked geopolitical tensions and jeopardised the expected post-pandemic economic recovery. The rising cost of food, energy and living, as well as slower growth and faster inflation, has instead led to greater uncertainty.

In 2022, ICMPD pivoted swiftly to support government responses, with a particular focus on the rollout of temporary protection in the European Union and responses to displacement in Moldova and Ukraine. ICMPD also analysed the implications of these developments for migration and displacement dynamics and policies in Europe and monitored the issue of food insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa as a vulnerability multiplier and potential catalyst of future migration from other parts of the globe.

A multifaceted crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine is facing severe and multifaceted repercussions from the war, manifested through the devastating impact on its sovereignty, economy, infrastructure, environment and human capital. An estimated 18 million Ukrainians1 are in urgent need of humanitarian support inside the country. Over eight million have fled the country2 and more than five million are internally displaced3. Many IDPs are subject to repeated displacement – including persons displaced from Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014 – and have eventually moved to smaller towns and villages, as larger cities have exhausted their capacities. Food insecurity, a lack of affordable housing and non-food items, health issues, and low or non-existent income are just some of the difficulties that IDPs face.

Ukraine and international actors have taken steps to assist vulnerable populations inside the country. ICMPD quickly adapted its projects implemented in Ukraine to repurpose allocated funds to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs and requirements of Ukrainian border and customs services. It also launched new initiatives contributing to the resilience, reinforcement and recovery of the country and its institutions (read more in the EECA section, page 42). Demand-driven and targeted discussions, as well as analytical publications about the war and its wide-ranging impacts, have also been ensured within the framework of multilateral regional dialogues such as the Prague Process. As the war drags on, many challenges persist and may further worsen – and may even spur new displacement – which calls for continuous support to Ukraine and its people, as well as countries hosting Ukrainian refugees.

Temporary protection in the EU

The EU’s response was unprecedented in its speed and scope, with the swift and first-ever activation of the Temporary Protection Directive just one week after Russia invaded Ukraine. This landmark step has provided Ukraine’s citizens and long-term residents who fled to the EU with quick access to a protection status that comes with access to essential integration-related services and the right to work, helping them to meet their basic needs and settle in. Millions have received temporary protection and access to services, Ukrainian children have enrolled in local schools and many adults have entered labour markets. In some European countries, more than 40 per cent of working age Ukrainian refugees are employed, according to the OECD4. Furthermore, there has been an outpouring of support from governments and the public, which is also key to fostering the inclusion of these newcomers5.

At the same time, challenges remain that will become even more pressing as the war continues. These include getting more Ukrainians into the labour market – and, in particular, into jobs that make use of their skills and pay accordingly. Here, skills recognition, on-the-job training and childcare all stand to play important roles6. Additionally, finding adequate and affordable housing remains a challenge for refugees and for communities more broadly. It is clear that integration is a marathon, not a sprint (read more in the Policy section, page 28, and the Research section, page 32). Meanwhile, these longer-term integration considerations occur alongside new cross-border displacement and the possibility that many will wish to return to Ukraine at some point.

Immediate and medium-term responses in Moldova EU countries are not alone in offering shelter to persons displaced by hostilities. Moldova, Ukraine’s direct neighbour and a small country of 2.6 million7, is playing a vital role as both a transit and host country. It recorded over 775,000 border crossings and received nearly 110,000 refugees8 from Ukraine in the first year of the war. On the day of Russia’s invasion, Moldova declared a state of emergency, repeatedly extending it, a measure that allowed Ukrainian citizens, their non-Ukrainian spouses and foreigners who had refugee status in Ukraine to live and work in Moldova.

To ensure a more sustainable solution and alleviate the risk that persons remaining in Moldova without refugee status will become irregular once the state of emergency ends, the country began developing a national temporary protection scheme, which was adopted on 18 January 2023 and went into effect on 1 March 20239. With an initial validity of one year, the temporary protection status provides displaced Ukrainians with easier access to services, accommodation and the labour market. Moldova’s response has been remarkable, particularly considering its small economy, limited resources and vulnerability to the secondary effects of the war. At the same time, the country requires continuous EU and international financial assistance and support in strengthening its national systems and addressing challenges to the socio-economic inclusion of refugees concerning childcare, language skills, information and awareness about available services, rights and material resources10.

Broader regional impacts

The war has strengthened the European aspirations of Ukrainians and Moldovans, resulting in the submission of formal applications for EU membership, which the European Commission approved in June 2022, thereby granting both countries EU candidate status. This status recognises previous progress and initiates a process of adopting the EU acquis and undertaking further reforms to satisfy EU accession criteria, including in the area of migration. Against this backdrop, ICMPD is supporting both countries, through projects such as RRR Ukraine and SCOP Moldova, in aligning their migration policies with the EU acquis as part of ICMPD’s broader efforts (read more in the EECA section, page 42). With Ukraine and Moldova moving closer to the EU, the war with Russia and the issue of Transnistria – a frozen conflict since the 1991–1992 war following the fall of the Soviet Union – as well as other attempts11 to destabilise both countries will need to be addressed as part of theoverall European security agenda.

The issue of mass outward migration from Russia is often deprioritised. However, the consequences of the military intervention in Ukraine for the aggressor country and its population are also considerable. In 2022, at least half a million Russian nationals left and did not return, fearing military mobilisation, persecution amid the adoption of new legislation outlawing anti-war activities, and economic downturn as a result of tough international sanctions on Russia. Most people left for non-EU countries of the post-Soviet area.

Although routes to the EU for Russians are currently limited, the EU should also plan for the potential arrival of Russian migrants and asylum seekers, especially since the number of asylum applications lodged by Russian nationals in the EU in 2022 has already increased threefold12 when compared to 2021. EU approaches to the admission of Russian nationals are increasingly security-oriented, with some EU Member States almost completely restricting border crossings for Russians with short-term Schengen visas, while others are further scrutinising visa issuance. At the same time, several EU countries launched programmes for the humanitarian admission of Russian nationals at risk of persecution, while all of them apply the regular asylum procedure13. The Prague Process, the Secretariat of which is housed at ICMPD, has commissioned two studies examining Russian emigration in wartime, which will offer valuable analysis about evolving migration dynamics in the region.

Global repercussions: Food security and migration

The effects of the war have also been felt in areas farther removed from battle zones. From the outset, countries in the MENA region have experienced food shortages resulting from disruptions in food exports from both Ukraine and Russia. Sanctions imposed on Russian exports and disruptions to the production and shipping of wheat in Ukraine have resulted not only in food shortages, but also soaring food, fuel and energy costs as well as living costs more broadly. The crisis has thus highlighted the interdependencies and inequalities of the world economy, amplifying existing crises as geographically removed countries experience the ripple effects of the war.

Wheat export disruptions and their economic repercussions on the world market have triggered food insecurity in many countries across the MENA region. In some contexts, such as in Tunisia, food insecurity in a context of political and economic uncertainty acts as a catalyst for migratory aspirations, with migration often thought of as a mitigation strategy. Building on earlier research conducted by ICMPD, a 2022 ICMPD trends assessment finds that food security becomes an important factor in migration decisions in contexts of political and/or economic uncertainty, as food insecurity has an amplifying effect on broader aspirations to migrate among various prospective migrant groups, including those with good living conditions. Migrant groups in particular are disproportionately affected by the rise in food and energy prices, which exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities and impacts their perceptions of their countries of transit or settlement14. Food insecurity was also found to impact the migration aspirations of highly skilled workers, who become more likely to capitalise on opportunities abroad to maintain or improve their lifestyles and living conditions.

The link between food security and migration is thus complex and context-dependent. Although food insecurity primarily affects the more vulnerable segments of the population, including migrants in irregular situations, movements of these populations remain limited and localised compared to those who have the means to migrate through regular or irregular channels. Nonetheless, food insecurity remains a source of instability in fragile contexts and longer-term disruptions will likely have far-reaching repercussions.

The challenges ahead

How many additional people will be displaced within and across borders is an open question, necessitating continued monitoring, adapting and planning on the part of host countries. Related to this is of course the fundamental question of when and how the war will end – and what this means for those who wish to remain where they are or return to Ukraine. ICMPD has been working with the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees to initiate discussions among Member States and key partners on what comes after the end of temporary protection. There are a multitude of considerations that go into the selection, design, implementation and coordination of such initiatives, pointing to the need for discussions early on. Given the need to jumpstart thinking about the possibilities, ICMPD has mapped the various policy options available to host countries and pinpointed considerations that will drive decision-making in the months ahead15. This is relevant not just in the context of the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive and similar European measures, but also with regard to pathways put in place in Canada, the United States, Australia and other countries farther from the conflict. Should return become a safe option, voluntary repatriation to and reintegration in Ukraine will become a priority. Consequently, ICMPD may support recovery efforts in Ukraine.

In the meantime, many challenges still lie ahead, including the continued provision of support to Ukrainians displaced inside and outside of Ukraine. This includes long-term thinking about integration and maintaining public acceptance for Ukrainian refugees. Receiving administrations will face the challenge of quickly implementing integration measures against the backdrop of a possible return to Ukraine, and will need to find innovative, gender-sensitive integration approaches that facilitate participation in the host society while at the same time not hindering a potential return.This will be a focus of ICMPD’s research activities in the coming year. It also necessitates maintaining support to Moldova as it rolls out its temporary protection scheme. In addition, countries receiving Russian nationals may soon need to streamline their approaches and introduce specific humanitarian and legal pathways to prevent irregular movements and provide protection to those in need.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the displacement it has caused, has had a huge impact on European migration policy (and far beyond). Extraordinary consensus has led to swift and comprehensive action: the first-ever activation of the two-decade-old Temporary Protection Directive in the EU and a new temporary protection scheme in Moldova, among other national measures across the globe. EU Member State dynamics regarding the hot topic of migration have shifted considerably. Central and Eastern European countries are playing a much larger role in refugee reception and integration than ever before – while Ukrainians are able to go anywhere in the EU, they are concentrated in these countries – despite having a shorter history (and therefore less experience) of doing so. In this context, EU discussions on refugee protection and solidarity have changed considerably – at least for this group.

While Ukraine is front and centre in Europe’s mind, developments in other parts of the world will lead people to want to or be compelled to move, including to Europe. In this regard, food insecurity is an important indicator when considering broader drivers of migration, as it feeds and interacts with other socio-economic and political drivers. More attention and emphasis on various supply chain disruptions and price increases should be given when thinking about migration aspirations. Additionally, countries and communities that are most likely to be affected by such global changes should be supported in their rethinking of food production and self-reliance strategies, as well as the diversification of their food imports suppliers. Rural communities should also be supported to increase production through technological advances and the modernisation of the sector, in line with various climate threats affecting regions across the MENA region and sub-Saharan Africa.

It is clear that, while there have been significant policy achievements in 2022, sizable challenges still lie ahead and place complex and difficult demands on European policymakers. The dynamics and consequences of the ongoing war will undoubtedly continue to shape discussion and action on migration and related policy areas in 2023, as well as the work of ICMPD to support its Member States and partners.


Caitlin Katsiaficas is a Policy Analyst in ICMPD’s Policy Unit, where her recent research has focused on temporary protection, complementary pathways and integration.

Irina Lysak is a Project Officer in ICMPD’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region, where she contributes to the analytical work of the Prague Process Migration Observatory.

Nesrine Ben Brahim is an Associate Researcher in ICMPD’s Research Unit. Her research focuses on migration narratives and decision-making, with a geographic focus on the MENA region.


Foot Notes

1 ICMPD, ICMPD Migration Outlook 2023,

2 UNHCR, Ukraine Refugee Situation, accessed 27 February 2023,

3 IOM, Ukraine – Internal Displacement Report – General Population Survey Round 12 (16–23 January 2023),

4 OECD, What we know about the skills and early labour market outcomes of refugees from Ukraine, 6 January 2023,

5 N. Boyon, One year in, global public opinion about the war in Ukraine has remained remarkably stable, Ipsos, 20 January 2023,

6 ICMPD Migration Outlook 2023.

7 World Bank, Population, total – Moldova,

8 UNHCR, Operational Data Portal, Country View – Republic of Moldova, accessed 27 February 2023,

9 Government of Moldova, Moldova did for refugees what bigger countries could not do, UN High Commissioner for Refugees says, 20 January 2023,

10 UNHCR, Ukraine Situation: Regional Refugee Response Plan – January–December 2023,

11 W. Preussen, Russia is planning coup in Moldova, says President Maia Sandu, Politico, 13 February 2023,

12 Eurostat. Asylum applicants, monthly data (2022) and Asylum applicants, annual data, updated 17 February 2023,

13 ICMPD, Migration Outlook: Eastern Europe and Central Asia 2023,

14 ICMPD, Fine-Grained: Exploring the link between food security and migration in Tunisia, 2022,

15 ICMPD, Responding to displacement from Ukraine: Past, present and future policies, 2023,


Related publications

 ▪ ICMPD. 2023. ICMPD Migration Outlook 2023.

 ▪ ICMPD. 2023. ICMPD Migration Outlook: Eastern Europe and Central Asia 2023.

 ▪ ICMPD. 2023. Responding to displacement from Ukraine: Past, present and future policies.

 ▪ Bilger, V. & Ben Brahim, N. 2022. Could disruptions to Eastern European wheat spur displacement in Africa? ICMPD Policy Insights.

 ▪ Düvell, F. 2022. The war in Ukraine: Post-war scenarios and migration repercussions. Prague Process Policy Brief.

 ▪ Hofmann, M. 2022. Getting Ukrainian refugees into work: The importance of early competence checks. ICMPD Policy Insights.

 ▪ Ben Brahim, N. 2022. Fine-Grained: Exploring the link between food security and migration in Tunisia.

 ▪ Katsiaficas, C. & Segeš Frelak, F. 2022. Integration of Ukrainian refugees: The road ahead. ICMPD Trend Assesment.

 ▪ Reznikova, N. & Panchenko, V. 2022. Internal Displacement in Ukraine: The Scale and Management Challenges in Times of Uncertainty. Prague Process Analytical Report.

 ▪ Segeš Frelak, J. & Piłat, A. 2022. Temporary protection in Poland: What solutions for vulnerable groups? ICMPD Policy Insights.

 ▪ Wagner, V. 2022. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have their European prospects confirmed. What does it mean for migration policies? ICMPD Policy Insights.