Ukrainian refugees in Moldova: warmly welcomed, but dreaming of a home

Landlocked between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is one of the poorest and smallest countries in Europe with about 2.5 million people.

However, that hasn’t stopped the EU aspirant from taking in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, many of them women and children, since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Svetlana Berezovskaya from Moldova. She sheltered her mother and her two sons, who fled the war in Ukraine. She says the conflict in her neighborhood made her think about the vulnerability of her own country.

“I was here in Moldova when the war with Transnistria started. I know what it is, it’s scary. And when you have children, it’s very scary. So we need to help somehow,” she explained.

“I don’t know, maybe, God forbid, of course, that this happens to us… It’s scary. And when you have children, it is very scary. So we need to do something to help.”

Mobilization of civil society

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Moldova has lived in constant fear of a Russian attack on its territory and has suffered from a major energy and cost of living crisis that led to the resignation of pro-Western Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita earlier this month. . and growing instability in the country.

There are a number of pro-Russian groups in Moldova, especially in Transnistria, the eastern breakaway region. This, along with a severe cost-of-living crisis, contributed to the country’s instability and the resignation of pro-Western Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita earlier this month.

Despite these difficulties, civil society has mobilized in an unprecedented way to help the refugees.

A year ago, Moldova for Peace started with just a handful of volunteers. Today this NGO is supported by several international organizations and employs more than 100 people.

“The war has begun, we all woke up in great anxiety […] And we decided the least we could do was get together. […] and we will try to offer the support we can,” said Constanta Dohotaru, Moldova for Peace program coordinator.

“This is a safe place for women and girls. This is a place where people can have a psychotherapy session, seek legal advice, take part in Romanian language lessons, English language lessons,” she added.

Jennifer Perova is a Ukrainian working for the Moldova for Peace organization. She told Euronews that the support she received inspired her to help others.

“I was impressed by how genuinely people want to help others. Therefore, as soon as I arrived in Moldova, I started looking for options where I could help others as well.”

refugees from Ukraine

Before the war, about 400,000 Roma lived in Ukraine. It is not clear how many people fled to Moldova, but most of them are in refugee centers scattered throughout the country.

In Costesti, a village 20 kilometers south of the capital, Euronews met with Iduard Mihai and his family at a refugee center run by the local municipality.

Iduard says that his family did not face any kind of discrimination and that the hospitality they received in Moldova helped them overcome the traumatic experience they had in Ukraine.

“We left because rockets were already flying over our heads, there was no light at all. It was cold, but we also have a well in which there was no water, and there was no heat, and it was cold,” he said.

“So we decided to take my kids and come here. Everyone here helps us, there are a lot of good people here. Everyone helps with clothes, food, everything.”

Palanka: main border crossing

The village of Palanka, on the border with Ukraine, is less than an hour’s drive from the city of Odessa and is the main entry point for 750,000 refugees fleeing the war through Moldova.

Today, relative peace contrasts sharply with the events that unfolded here a year ago.

“At the height of the crisis, the queue for this border crossing was from eight to eleven kilometers. [long]”, – said Eugene Levko, head of the international cooperation department of the Moldovan border police.

“I am a father myself. I have a little daughter. And when you [live] this experience, you take it very personally,” he added.

Holding on to the day they can come home

In January 2023, the Moldovan government granted temporary protection status to all Ukrainian refugees in order to provide them with a more stable future with automatic rights to housing, healthcare, education and work.

But, despite this guarantee, most dream of a house.

“I want to go back,” said Dimitro Kochegov, a young Ukrainian refugee who lives with Svetlana Berezovskaya. “But I understand that it is very dangerous there, something can happen.”

“God forbid, everything will end quickly,” Iduard Mihai told Euronews. “Our parents, our houses are there, everything is there. So we will wait. It’s just a matter of time,” he concluded.

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