Ukraine refugee response in neighbouring countries

Guidance for Local Authorities

A child plays in the activity room in Brasov, Romania


The escalation of the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 created a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe. Millions of children were uprooted from their homes, separated from their families and put at risk of violence. Around 5.4 million people remain displaced across Ukraine one year after, and humanitarian needs continue to grow. In Europe, 5.9 million refugees from Ukraine are recorded, among them 86 per cent of women and children. In addition, 5 million are registered for temporary or similar national protection schemes. The complexity and unpredictability of the war in Ukraine, including recent attacks on critical civilian infrastructure, increasing humanitarian needs, nuclear threat, economic hardship and harsh winter conditions, are inhibiting returns and triggering new refugee movements1 . As the crisis has evolved, refugees have moved to major cities in host countries.  

The response to the humanitarian crisis has required mobilising resources and expertise across the whole spectrum of society, from public and private sectors to civil society organisations and citizens. 

Citizens, national and subnational authorities, and civil societies have shown unprecedented solidarity.

Local authorities have been central to this response as providers of vital frontline services and ‘managers’ of social cohesion. While the assignment of responsibilities varies across sectors, local governments bear or share responsibilities with subnational actors for key areas such as social welfare, health care and education.

Local government can provide certain public goods and services more effectively, due to access to local knowledge of highly variable time and site-specific local conditions, needs and priorities, and because of their closer connections with agents of public action as well as direct contact with affected populations. They play a vital role in developing inclusive and welcoming communities, where no one is left behind.  Local governments are in a position to translate national policies into local actions. Therefore, coordination and synergies between governments and local authorities should be ensured.

In partnership with governments and subnational authorities, UNICEF has been expanding and improving existing services and providing support that keeps children learning, healthy and protected while keeping caregivers well-informed about their rights and providing psychological support allowing refugee families to recover from war-time traumas.

This document, informed by the work undertaken with local authorities and the technical support that UNICEF has provided across the region since the beginning of the conflict, outlines key recommendations for local authorities to respond to the needs of people displaced from Ukraine.   

The recommendations aim to ensure that the decisions and approaches of local authorities promote the rights of all uprooted Ukrainian children in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). They spell out proactive measures essential to support women, girls and people with disabilities who face unique risks and have specific needs.

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