Invasion’s Fallout: Refugees and Racism

Two women on "Crisis in Ukraine" panel
Joanna Regulska, vice provost and dean of Global Affairs, left, and Raquel Aldana, professor of law, participating in March 7 panel discussion, “Crisis in Ukraine.” (Jose Alfonso Perez /UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • 200 attend law school panel on the “Crisis in Ukraine”
  • Heartening to see neighboring nations welcome refugees
  • But discrimination and marginalization are sure to follow

The devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will reverberate for years in Ukraine and other nations, experts said during the “Crisis in Ukraine” panel discussion held March 7 at the School of Law.


  • Wednesday, March 16, remote, for employees impacted by the war in Ukraine. Run by the Academic and Staff Assistance Program, or ASAP.

A combined live and virtual audience of more than 200 people watched the discussion moderated by Beth Greenwood, the School of Law’s associate dean for international programs. The panelists were Joanna Regulska, UC Davis vice provost and dean of Global Affairs; Raquel Aldana, professor and director of the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at the law school; and James Armstead, retired professor from the U.S. Naval War College.

Armstead provided historical context for Ukraine’s long-complicated relationship with Russia. Aldana, a specialist in immigration law and international human rights, addressed the scope of the humanitarian crisis that erupted after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Refugee crisis

“The invasion has caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II,” Aldana said, citing the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “This is going to grow exponentially, daily, if we look back at historical patterns of other wars.”


  • Vice Provost and Dean Regulska urged the UC Davis community to spread the word about the UC Davis-sponsored Article 26 Backpack, a secure platform for Ukrainian students, professionals and human rights defenders to store credentials and other important documents.

Nearly 2 million people had fled Ukraine for neighboring countries as of last week. The vast majority are women and children, since Ukraine has banned men ages 18 to 60 from leaving, so they can be available for military conscription.

Most displaced Ukrainians have gone to Poland, Hungary and Romania, European Union countries where displaced Ukrainians can live and work for up to three years. Aldana added that “likely as many Ukrainians have also been forcibly displaced within the Ukrainian territory, or frankly stuck in place in extremely dangerous circumstances.”

Russians opposed to the war or affected by economic sanctions against Russia are likely to form another large group of displaced people, Aldana said.

Open doors

Woman on panel, gesturing
Law professor Raquel Aldana addresses the refugee crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Poland. (Jose Alfonso Perez/UC Davis)

But there is “one piece of good news in this terrible tragedy,” she said. “So far, Ukrainians have received what I think probably should be, at least in the immediate time, the response to people fleeing horrible conditions.” Other forcibly displaced people have had a far harder time finding refuge in recent years, Aldana said. “It is actually amazing that neighboring nations have not shut their doors to Ukrainians.”

One reason for this exceptional treatment is the geopolitical stakes. “We understand the implications of this conflict and the way that it will transform world order,” Aldana said. “But it’s also true that there have been contrasts and comparisons drawn to Syrians and Afghans and other pockets of forcibly displaced individuals who are from non-European nations who have received very disparate treatment.” This gives rise to concerns that such disparate treatment is “being driven by racialized issues or other types of dismissals,” Aldana said.

Racism exacerbated

An increase in racism, discrimination and marginalization is sure to follow “the influx of refugees at this scale,” Regulska said.

The refugees, in their sheer numbers, are “going to change neighboring countries,” Regulska said. “They are going to change cultural practices, social, economic and political practices. They will change institutions. They will change responses. This means (the influx) will unleash the ugly side of the mobility.”

Racism that already exists becomes amplified during crisis, Regulska said. “Incidents are already happening,” she noted, alluding to reports by African and Asian students of encountering racist treatment from officials while trying to leave Ukraine.

For Ukrainians, simple notions of home and safety “are being shattered,” Regulska said. “People don’t know where they belong, people don’t feel safe. … The disruption of these social relations and these notions actually will have an impact for generations to come.”

Two women on panel
Research by Vice Provost and Dean Regulska, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, found that displaced women are “extremely resilient ... extremely well organized, and they are the leaders, when the situation pushes them.” (Jose Alfonso Perez/UC Davis)

Internally displaced people

Regulska, who is from Poland, studied the impact of war on internally displaced people, or IDPs, in the nation of Georgia, which was rocked by the war in Abkhazia in 1992-93 and a Russian invasion in 2008. Three million people remain displaced “and living in unbelievably difficult and stressful and poor conditions” in Georgia, Regulska said.

“It was very clear (when) children were born into the status of being an IDP,” she said. They grow up lacking awareness of an extended family or a true home.

In her research, Regulska, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s, also found that displaced women are “extremely resilient,” she said. “They are extremely well organized, and they are the leaders, when the situation pushes them.” They get their families to borders, protecting children and older relatives along the way.

“They are basically taking charge of displacement right now, as it’s happening” in Ukraine, she said.

Regulska wrapped up the event by suggesting members of the campus community can become more engaged by visiting the Slavic Association table, which students set up at 11 a.m. every weekday at the Memorial Union.



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Carla Meyer is senior editor in marketing and communications at the UC Davis School of Law. Reach her at 530-754-5329 or

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