Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, we have been working with our partner organisations in Moldova and Romania to support Ukrainian refugee arrivals. Rachel Bentley, our CEO and co-founder and Ben Wilkes, our Chief Operating Officer have just returned from the region, where they visited our partners, met refugee families and saw first hand how the situation on the ground is changing, nearly three months on from the start of the war.
When the conflict began at the end of February, Ukrainians were fleeing the country in vast numbers, arriving in border countries like Moldova and Romania, staying a few days, before moving onwards into Europe. With your donations, our partners were supporting these refugees whilst they were passing through these countries with beds, food, clothes and supplies. The situation has now changed, as the first wave of refugees have now moved onwards into central Europe, whilst those that remain in Moldova and Romania are in need of more long term support.
It’s estimated that Moldova, with a population of 4 million, has seen around 400,000 Ukrainian refugees pass through the country, and now around 100,000 remain , who are likely to stay. In Romania, around 900,000 refugees have passed through the country since the conflict began, with around 75,000 - 100,000 staying.
Thanks to your donations, we have been able to support the Speranta centre in the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, and two other centres in Moldova, where our partners opened up the doors to Ukrainian families in February, and offered a place to stay as people transited through the country. Now, there is less traffic through these centres and people are looking like they will be there on a more long term basis.
Ben and Rachel spoke to the refugees staying at Speranta, who are learning to live alongside each other in the centre and adapt to their current situation. There’s a real mix of people staying here, including a young woman who arrived with her younger brother and mother from Ukraine, where she was studying maritime law and philosophy. She’s been able to continue her studies online for the time being. Another woman, Anastasia arrived with her young son, and is now working for Lucia, who runs the centre, as an administrator.
Moldova has welcomed Ukrainian refugees, making internet access free, so that families are able to keep in touch with loved ones back home and offering free tickets to attractions like the zoo and Botanical Gardens, so that families are able to experience some normality. Many people in Moldova speak Russian, as do many Ukrainian refugees, so they are able to communicate easily and feel safe.
One family at the Speranta Centre had fled to Norway, but they travelled back to Moldova as they felt more at home there; they were closer to Ukraine and found the Moldovan climate warmer! Some refugees even drive back to their homes in Ukraine at the weekends to check on their houses. One woman Rachel spoke to had just returned from her home in Odessa where she made the trip home for the weekend to feed her cat and check on her garden.
Further inland, is Vatici, a larger centre we support that houses refugees. This has also seen more people staying put in recent weeks. There are currently 130 people staying in the centre on a long term basis, but we anticipate more people will join them as other transit centres in the area start to close. We heard how many traumatised families were still sleeping in their clothes with the lights on when they first arrived, but are now feeling more settled. This centre is managed by a local couple, and is usually used for residential trips, training and summer camps. It’s a bright, clean space with gardens, and refugees are now beginning to manage things themselves, including the canteen. We are supporting staff to help things run smoothly and ensure the necessary safeguarding policies and procedures are in place to protect those staying here, particularly the children.
In Romania, we were initially supporting a large transit hub for refugees, but now, as in Moldova we are working with our partners to support the refugees who will be staying longer term.
A drop-in centre in Iasi distributes food, clothes and supplies (including things like sanitary products and nappies), as well as helping to organise medical appointments for refugee families. The centre is open once or twice a week and is now run by local organisations including Ukrainian refugee helpers. The need is great and people queue for over an hour for resources and support, with supplies often running out before everyone is seen. Rachel saw 50 people at the back of the queue miss out on collecting desperately needed items as they had just run out that day. These refugees were given priority at the front of the queue for the next distribution that took place.
Until recently, the centre received generous donations from local people and businesses, but these are now beginning to wane as the influx of refugees slows down. There is a concern that this initial flurry of goodwill for Ukrainian refugees will diminish further, leaving many refugees without support. Thanks to our Emergency Fund, for now, we have been able to fill in the gaps and ensure the centre can continue to offer vital supplies to refugees.
For the refugee families who are staying in Romania, we are looking to offer something more than food and supplies, as they adjust to a long term stay. We plan to set up an afternoon club to offer support and some fun activities for children and families. We have found a venue that has offered to host this, and will now look to find staff and volunteers to get it started.
Children on the Edge are also supporting a group of 44 children in Romania, who arrived from Ukraine in March when their orphanage in Dnipro was bombed. They are being homed at a bright and colourful group home in Bucium and we are working closely with the relevant authorities in Romania to ensure the children are cared for properly and supported with any additional needs they have.
Language teachers are helping the children learn Romanian, so they can integrate well at local schools. The children are also continuing to learn to read and write in their own language so they can continue their education back in Ukraine when they are able to return. We are also funding two psychologists who are working to offer the right psychosocial support.
The children are able to access many activities run by the group home including arts and craft, pottery, dance, football and trampolining. They have also recently been to the theatre and are attending a local adventure centre each week; these two activities have been offered for free by generous local businesses. As with other donations and acts of generosity, this support may dry up as the months go on, so we will need to be ready to step in and ensure the children continue to have these kinds of opportunities.
We have a breadth of experience working with institutionalised children, having begun as a charity in 1990 working with in Romania in the aftermath of the orphanage crisis.
Through all our work with children and communities around the world, we treat people with dignity and respect, ensuring they not only have their basic survival needs met, but can enjoy the things that bring hope, life, colour and fun. Read more about our approach and values.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of our supporters in response to our Ukraine Appeal, we have been able to get money where it is needed most in Moldova and Romania. You have helped our partners respond to the crisis unfolding on the ground, from initial emergency accommodation and supplies, to more holistic support for those refugees staying longer term. .