As she told her story to the UN chief, Irina, a mother of four from Ukraine’s Odessa region, couldn’t hold back her tears.
“We left almost immediately after the war started – we were really scared for our children. And yesterday, we learned that our shopping center where we had always done our shopping, is totally in ruins, ”she said.
She and her children have temporarily settled in the largest refugee center in Moldova, at the MoldExpo exhibition center. Since the beginning of the war, this reception center and others have taken in almost half a million refugees.
At the height of the crisis, when Ukraine was experiencing a mass exodus of people, the Chisinau complex housed more than ten thousand people at a time. Most of them moved to different countries, but about one hundred thousand remained in Moldova.
The crisis is on several levels. People not only need a roof over their heads, but also food, legal and psychological support, medical assistance. Children need to go to school.
“The unique nature of this crisis is that the refugees are mostly women and children,” the UN Secretary-General said in a conversation with representatives of women’s non-governmental organizations working with UN Women. “Men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, women and children are alone and vulnerable. They can easily become victims of gender-based violence or human trafficking.”
The UN, in cooperation with Moldova’s law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations, is doing everything to protect Ukrainians from such crimes.
“Yesterday we received a complaint,” Elena Botezatu, Executive Director of the organization “La Strada”, told UN News. “Our employees became suspicious when they noticed how a man was treating his travel companion, a young woman. We immediately informed the specialized unit for combating trafficking in human beings of the Moldovan police”.
According to Mariana Buruiana, Director of the Women’s Law Center, the main weapon against such crimes is awareness. Employees of this center work at the border as well as in host communities, alerting women to possible danger.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
This couple is one of the Moldovans who are hosting refugees from Ukraine.
Refugees hosted by Moldovan families
The UN Secretary-General drew attention to another distinctive feature of this migration crisis: in Moldova, there are no refugee camps, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians – 95% – are housed by Moldovan families.
António Guterres noted that in such circumstances the best kind of aid is cash aid. This form of support is provided to refugees and the families hosting them by UN agencies.
“We are really grateful to Moldova and the United Nations for their help and support,” Lubov Fedorovna of Chernobayevka told the Secretary-General. “Our village became famous because of the war. Rockets literally flew above our heads, and one of them hit our garden”. She cannot hold back her tears as she remembers the house and garden she had to leave behind.
“It is impossible to meet refugees and not be deeply moved by their stories,” the UN chief told reporters after speaking with refugees at the exhibition center. “This tragedy demonstrates that war is a senseless thing. It is absolutely necessary to stop this war and it is absolutely necessary that international law prevails. There is no military solution “.
Generosity of the Moldovans
He expressed his admiration for the hospitality offered to the refugees by the people and government of Moldova. “People have opened their homes and their hearts to Ukrainians,” said António Guterres.
The Secretary-General visited one of these families on Tuesday in Chisinau. Pensioner couple Vasiliy and Klavdia Turkanu are now hosting a second group of Ukrainian refugees – one of the two bedrooms in their small apartment is occupied by three women from Nikolayev – mother, daughter and grandmother, and before that they hosted two men from Odessa.
Klavdia says their guests can stay until the war is over. “We understand what they’re going through,” she says sadly. “We, for example, we can travel to one place and then we get homesick. Home is the most important thing. And they can’t go home.”
“Why do people go to war? wondered Vasiliy. “They could have lived in peace and negotiated everything amicably”.
The UN Secretary General was impressed by Vasily and Klavdia’s hospitality. “It is a strong emotional experience to communicate with people who have been forced to abandon their homes in such dramatic circumstances,” said António Guterres. “And at the same time I admire the magnanimity of the Moldavians. Moldova can serve as an example of solidarity”.
Earlier in the day, the UN chief met with the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu. He told her that the UN would not leave Moldova alone with its problems. He urged the international community to support this small European country which hosts the largest number of refugees relative to the size of its population.
The UN Secretary-General also met with representatives of Moldovan youth, in particular members of the UN Adolescents and Youth Advisory Group in Moldova.
The young people raised an important subject: people of their age are leaving the country en masse in search of a better life. In order to stop the exodus, it is imperative that certain conditions are guaranteed in their country of origin – the possibility of receiving an education, finding a job and gaining financial independence.