November 16, 2022

Civil Defence in Ukraine: Preliminary Lessons From the First Months of War

Ivo Juurvee / personal archive
Art rising from ashes in Vokzal’na street, Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, May 2022.
Art rising from ashes in Vokzal’na street, Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, May 2022.

With the Ukrainian Armed Forces reporting the good news almost daily, and the frontline constantly moving in Ukraine’s favour, many experts are now wondering when and speculating about how the war will end. However, as the war continues and Russia targets civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, civil defence remains of outmost importance. Ukraine’s experience from the first months of this war offers some important lessons that must be considered by civil defence planners everywhere, but especially in the countries exposed to the threat of Russia’ military aggression.

How do people manage to surviveand even continue to live in the new normalin the recently liberated areas or far behind the frontlines? How does the war impact civilian infrastructure? And finally, what can other countries learn from Ukraine to prepare for a potential outbreak of war? These were the questions the ICDS team had, setting on the research expedition to Ukraine, the first of its kind at that time, in May 2022. Of main interest were the extent and nature of the damage, the first efforts to repair it and mitigate further damages, as well as communication with the civilian population and the preventative measures taken by the authorities and local communities.  

This paper does not aim to study how to avoid or win a war. Instead, it dwells upon how the civilian population lives through a war, had it already broken out. Ukraine’s experience is a perfect example to demonstrate that although war-related damage to civilian infrastructure appears and, in fact, is horrendous, societies may prove resilient enough to persevere without collapsing. The continuing military conflict in the east has provided Ukrainian people with essentialalbeit unfortunate and unsolicitedpsychological training. In 2022, Ukraine emerged more mature and better prepared for the trial by war than most European countries would have been in similar circumstances. Invaluable lessons from Ukraine must be studied, learned, and adopted as quickly as possible. 

The reality on the ground has changed dramatically since the research team visited Ukraine. However, with the city of Kherson, yet another major population centre, liberated after eight long months under brutal Russian occupation, Ukraine’s previously gained skills are more relevant than ever. The final lessons from Russia’s war aggression will be learnt from history books and academic studies, but we must be ready to protect the civilian population, drawing from Ukraine’s unrivalled and practical experience, today. 

Download and read: Civil Defence in Ukraine (PDF)