Moldova, a small country with a big heart

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Chisinau in spring is the chestnut trees in bloom and the music on the terraces of the cafes and the hustle and bustle of young people in its streets. However, the peaceful capital of Moldova has become a constant buzz about the war. Everybody talks about the latest news about Ukraine.

Since February 24, more than 450,000 refugees have crossed the border from Ukraine, and some 100,000 have temporarily settled with the four million inhabitants of Moldova.

The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, visits the country from Sunday, May 8.

A place to rearrange their lives

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

“They offered me to go to Europe, to France,” says the 34-year-old mother. “But I don’t want to go that far. I hope it will all be over soon and I can go home.”

When the war started, it was impossible to find a place in the pavilions.

“There was not a single square meter free, I had never seen anything like this in my life, and people kept coming,” explains Svetlana, an interpreter who works with the UN and other organisations, helping local people and refugees communicate.

“Residents of Moldova started fundraising right away and literally filled the Exhibition Center with their belongings, they kept bringing stuff in,” he continued. “My friend, a lawyer, temporarily moved to the border to offer legal advice to new arrivals. And there are hundreds of people like her.”

Currently, the MoldExpo complex, which until recently was used as a hospital for COVID-19 patients, it houses 360 refugees, and during the first days it received 1,200 people.

The exhibition center has been transformed into a transit point where people, exhausted by the dangerous journey and madness of war, get shelter, a hot meal, legal advice and, most importantly, human empathy.

harrowing encounters

At MoldExpo, UN employees, civil society organizations and volunteers work tirelessly.

The UN organized so-called “blue dots” for families with children and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) offers an “orange safe space” for the specific needs of girls and women.

In this space, refugees are instructed on how to avoid the networks skillfully tended by human traffickers.

Medicines and other forms of medical assistance are also received at the complex.

Natalia, who works in the cash assistance program, confesses that she finds it difficult to control her emotions when she sees people who have lost everything.

“I had a case that moved me for two or three days,” she said, recounting the story of a 75-year-old former university professor from Kharkiv.

His son is in the military, his daughter and daughter-in-law are doctors, and his son-in-law is a policeman, so none of them could leave Ukraine. The elderly woman had to take care of herself to get her five grandchildren, between 4 and 14 years old, to safety.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” Natalia continues. “She had been calling them for two days, and all the phones were disconnected, she was afraid that something had happened to them, since Kharkiv is constantly bombarded. Everyone in the center was comforting her, we were trying to locate them with our phones and distracting the children with sweets “.

Fortunately, after a few days we confirmed that all four were alive; they were offline.

UN News

Natalya, Refugee Cash Assistance Program worker.

Economic and human assistance

As tens of thousands of people receive economic assistance from UN agencies, MoldExpo also houses an economic aid management center.

“People are embarrassed to accept money, but they are forced to,” explains Natalia.

“They often tell us: ‘make no mistake, we had everything there, we didn’t want anything.’ Many of them volunteer and ask us how they could help.”

In addition to these financial aids, many refugees stay with Moldovan families, who receive a lump sum amounting to around $190 if they host them for at least a week.

But it’s not really about money.

At 73 years old, Margarita Yevgenievna still has no plans to retire as a primary school teacher. She shares her small two-bedroom apartment with three refugees.

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

UN News

Refugee camp in Palanka, in Moldova, on the border with Ukraine.

They keep crossing the border

Although the flow of refugees has decreased considerably, it has not stopped.

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

There the refugees wait for the buses that will take them to the city or to Romania.

“We weren’t expecting such a welcome. We were improvising, we just wanted to leave because we were too scared to stay,” says Irina, who has just arrived with her son from Odessa. “We are very grateful to Moldova and the UN.”

At Chisinau airport, on the wall between the passport control booths, you can read:

“Moldova is a small country with a big heart.”

The UN Secretary-General is in the country to offer support to the refugees and personally show his appreciation to the Moldovans and all those who offer assistance to the refugees.

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