Moldova, a small country with a big heart


Since February 24, more than 450,000 refugees have crossed the Ukrainian border and a hundred thousand have temporarily settled among the four million inhabitants of Moldova.

As its citizens await the visit of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, UN News visited the country.


Originally from Odessa, Natalia and her one-year-old daughter currently live in the MoldExpo exhibition complex, which has been transformed into a reception center for refugees.

“I was offered to go to Europe, to France,” says this 34-year-old mother. “But I don’t want to go that far. I hope everything will be over and I can go home,” she explains.

When the war began, it was impossible to sneak into the vast territory of the spacious pavilions.

“There wasn’t a single square meter free, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and people kept coming,” says Svetlana, an interpreter who helps the UN and other organizations to communicate with the local population and the refugees.

“The people of Moldova immediately started raising funds and literally filled the exhibition center with various goods, they kept bringing things,” she continues. “My friend, a lawyer, temporarily moved closer to the border to give legal advice to new arrivals. And there are hundreds of people like her.

A flexible space

Today, the MoldExpo complex, which until recently served as a Covid hospital, houses 360 refugees. During the first days, it hosted up to 1,200 people during the night.

The exhibition center has been transformed into a transit center where people, exhausted by the dangerous journey and the madness of war, find shelter, a hot meal, legal advice and, above all, human sympathy.

It gives locals some rest in figuring out where and how to go from here.

The rush outside

There are always long queues at the Ukrainian Embassy in Moldova. Staff are overworked, making it difficult for those who fled quickly to replace documents they may have lost or left behind.

“We are Dnieper gypsies,” said a woman in response to our greeting. “I have a daughter in Germany, but we can’t join her there because we don’t have our identity papers and it takes time to replace them.”

For now, she lives with her sisters and daughters in a small box at MoldExpo – with the hope of going to Germany.

Stationed to help

At MoldExpo, UN staff, NGOs and volunteers work around the clock.

The UN has organized “blue dots” for families with children and UNFPA provides an “orange safe space” for the specific needs of girls and women.

Some people need medication and other forms of medical assistance.

In ‘safe orange zones’, refugees receive instructions on how to avoid the nets cleverly set up by human traffickers.

heartbreaking encounters

Natalia says it’s hard for her to control her emotions when she looks at people who have lost everything in an instant.

“I had this case that left me shaken for two or three days,” she says, telling the story of a 75-year-old former university professor from Kharkiv.

This woman’s son is a soldier, her daughter and daughter-in-law are doctors, while her son-in-law is a policeman.

By obligation, none of them could leave Ukraine, so the old lady had to bring her five grandchildren – aged 4 to 14 – to safety alone.

“She couldn’t stop crying,” Natalia continues.

“She’s been calling them for two days and all the phones are off; she is afraid that something has happened to them, Kharkiv being constantly bombarded. Everyone in our center was consoling her, we tried to reach them with our phones and distracted the children with sweets”.

Luckily, a few days later it turned out that all four were alive, there was just no connection.

Cash assistance

While tens of thousands of people receive economic aid from UN agencies, MoldExpo also hosts a center for financial aid.

“People are embarrassed to accept money, but they just have to,” says Natalia, who works at the UN’s material assistance centre.

“We often hear: ‘don’t get the wrong idea, we had everything there, we didn’t want anything’. Many of them offer to work as volunteers and ask how they could help”.

Open houses, hearts

Lump-sum financial assistance of approximately $190 is granted to families who host refugees for at least one week. But is it really a question of money?

At 73, Margarita Yevgenievna has no intention of retiring as a teacher yet.

She shares her small two-room apartment with refugees.

“The three people from Odessa are in one room and I in the other. Until the war is over, they will live with me,” she said, adding, “I also have three children from Ukraine in my class.”

Still crossing the border

The flow of refugees has now decreased significantly, but has not stopped.

About a two-hour drive from Chisinau, UN agencies and the Moldovan government have set up a tent camp on the Ukrainian border.

Refugees can rest there or spend the night there, depending on the schedules of the buses that will take them further into the city or to Romania.

“We didn’t even expect such a welcome, we proceeded randomly, it was just too scary to stay,” said Irina, who just arrived from Odessa with her son. “We are really grateful to Moldova and the UN.”

A warm welcome

At Chisinau airport, on the wall between the passport control booths, one can read the following words: “Moldova is a small country with a big heart”.

The head of the United Nations will arrive soon to support the refugees and personally thank the Moldovans and all those who help them.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.