Stronger together: The refugees finding peace and humanity in Moldova
The war woke them on the morning of 24 February, changing their lives forever. Some people were frightened and locked themselves in their apartments, while others gathered a few things and fled the shelling and sirens following the bombings. They ran towards nowhere – to some unknown place that seamed better than the terror surrounding their city and clouding their thoughts. Within a few weeks, almost 4 million Ukrainians had become refugees, many of them finding peace and safety in the Republic of Moldova.
More than 10 million people are already thought to have fled their homes in Ukraine because of the war, according to the United Nations. Today, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled over the border into Moldova. Most are mothers with children, while their husbands and fathers stayed to fight.
Through its EU-funded EVA project to promote gender equality in Cahul and Ungheni districts, in partnership with UNICEF, UN Women is working to ensure that humanitarian efforts consider the differentiated impact of the war on women and men, including those from the most vulnerable groups.
“You can’t not stay behind when you understand the horror they [the refugees from Ukraine] went through,” says Diana Miron, local coordinator of UN Women’s EVA project and a volunteer in the Cahul region.
From the first day when the refugees arrived in town, a Crisis Unit was created by local public authorities to manage the situation, and a group of volunteers within this unit was mobilized and started working in shifts.
“How can you not get involved when our neighbours were forced to leave their homes?” asks Miron, eyeing a group of women who are learning to smile again.
“We didn’t want to leave our home”
Vita came to Moldova two weeks ago. Two weeks have passed since she last saw her home, her relatives, her husband. She talks to her husband online and these discussions give her a shred of hope that she and her children will soon return home to Odessa.
“We didn’t want to leave our country. We didn’t want to leave even when they shelled our neighbourhood. But we couldn’t stay there when the authorities warned us to take our children and leave because there were warnings of more powerful attacks by the Russians,” tells Vita.
She remembers how she dressed in warm clothes, as the frost was still biting; how she threw some documents in her bag and a few things for her children; and how they left for Moldova. At the border, she hugged her husband and tried not to think that this could be the last time she sees him.
“We walked for 5 kilometres. Then, together with the volunteers, we reached the Unit in Cahul,” she says.
Her children do their classes online, then they all go for walks. Vita admits that she feels lost and a little strange when she is surrounded by silence: “Meanwhile, in my city for the past month, silence was replaced by the stringent sound of sirens warning us to go into hiding as quickly as possible.”
And although the volunteers and the organizations offer them everything they need, also entertaining her children in an effort to help them forget the nightmare going on in their city, she says: “my children still ask me when we will return home. I am following the bus schedule all the time, just waiting for my husband to tell me when things have calmed down. I want to go home, where I have my house, my family,” Vita smiles with a little sparkle of hope in her eyes.
Help and humanity
They left their home, taking only their documents, a blanket and a few clothes for the children. Their bags needed to be small and light, so as not to make the trip even more difficult. They left their beloved city, the places where they grew up and where they were happy.
Under the EVA project, 200 refugee families have received personal hygiene items in placement centres in Cahul and Ungheni districts. Also, a safe and friendly space for children and youth named Ludoteca has recently been established to provide information and psychosocial support for women and children refugees from Ukraine in Cahul. “We understand them, and we offer our support to these women in this difficult situation,” says Laura Grecu, EVA Project Manager.
“They pay attention to our needs, and they take care of us and our children. This is extremely important to us,” says Olga, who arrived from Odessa on 4 March. “I took our papers; I took my child, and we went into the unknown. We left in a hurry. Leaving the sounds of the explosions as far behind as possible was the most important thing for us.”
“I can finally sleep”
Diana, a 20-year-old refugee from Odessa, walks down the hallway of the temporary refugee placement centre in Cahul after arriving in Moldova two days ago. Immediately, she decides to get involved in helping other refugees and helps the volunteers sort the donated clothes.
“There were many bags full of clothes, and the two women sorting them couldn’t do it on their own. I couldn’t just stay aside,” explains Diana.
“Everything seemed so unreal. Then we heard it again and again,” she recalls. Her family decided to move to a house in the suburbs for a few weeks, but the explosions could be heard even there. “We were all so stressed out for an entire month. It was extremely difficult,” she remembers.
They decided to leave Ukraine when three shells flew over their house with a whistling sound. They gathered a few things and hurried towards the border with Moldova, where volunteers met them and brought them to the placement centre.
“It is amazing how people opened their arms and helped us,” says Diana, who admits that after a long time she can finally sleep in peace, not being woken by the sound of shelling destroying the country she loves so much, the country she didn’t want to leave. “We want to be closer to home and we hope that soon we will be able to go back,” she says.
In Moldova, UN Women is working with partners to ensure that there is up-to-date data and analysis on the gender dynamics of the situation, including a gender assessment to capture the situation and needs of women refugees from Ukraine. UN Women is also supporting women’s civil society organizations that provide essential services for refugee women and girls.