The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, visited on Tuesday the fairgrounds of Chisinau, in Moldova, which has become a reception center for refugees from the war.
Irina, a mother of four from the Odessa region, could not hold back her tears when she spoke to him: “We left almost immediately after the war broke out, we were very scared for our children. And yesterday we found out that our shopping center , where we had always shopped, was totally destroyed,” says Irina.
She and her children have temporarily settled in the MoldExpo exhibition center. Since the beginning of the war, this and other reception centers have processed nearly half a million refugees.
At the height of the crisis, when Ukraine was experiencing a mass exodus of the populationthe Chisinau complex once housed more than 10,000 people. Most of them moved to other countries, but approximately 100,000 people remain in Moldova.
To provide refugees with basic services, the government of Moldova receives help from UN agencies such as UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA ), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program (WFP), which provide shelter, food, legal and psychological support, and medical assistance, in addition to helping children continue to go to school and develop in their capabilities.
Violeta arrived in Moldova from Odessa with Daniel, 12, and Angelina, 11, as well as their two cats.
Women and children
“What makes this crisis unique is that the refugees are mainly women and children,” the UN Secretary-General said in conversation with representatives of women’s non-governmental organizations working with UN Women.
“Men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, so women and children are alone. They are more vulnerable, so they can easily become victims of gender-based violence or human trafficking,” she added.
The United Nations, in collaboration with Moldovan law enforcement and civil society organizations, does everything possible to protect Ukrainians from these crimes. “Yesterday we received a complaint, explained Elena Botezatu, executive director of the organization La Strada, to UN News.
“Our workers became suspicious of a man because of his treatment of his traveling companion, a young woman. We immediately informed the specialized anti-human trafficking unit of the Moldovan police,” she explained.
According to Mariana Buruiana, director of the Women’s Legal Center, the main weapon against these crimes is awareness. Employees of the center work both at the border and in host communities, alerting women to potential dangers.
Moldovan families welcome refugees
Another aspect that differentiates this crisis from others is, according to António Guterresthe absence of refugee camps in Moldova, since the vast majority of Ukrainians, 95%, are hosted by Moldovan families.
For that reason, he said, the best kind of help is cash assistance. This form of support is provided both to refugees and their host families, through the Cash Assistance Program run by UNHCR, UNICEF and other UN agencies.
“We are very grateful to Moldova and the United Nations for their assistance and support,” Lubov Fedorovna, from Chernobayevka, told the Secretary. “Our people became known for the war: rockets were literally flying over our heads, and one of them it hit our garden,” the woman couldn’t hold back her tears as she remembered the house and garden they had to leave behind because of the war.
“It is impossible to meet refugees in person and not be deeply moved by their stories.: bombings, attacks, leaving family members behind,” the Secretary General told reporters after leaving the fairgrounds.
“This tragedy shows that war is meaningless. It is absolutely necessary to stop this war and make international law prevail. There is no military solution to the problems we face,” he emphasized.
He expressed his admiration for the hospitality extended to the refugees by the Moldovan people and government. “People opened their homes and their hearts to the Ukrainians,” António Guterres stressed.
This man and his wife are one of many Moldovans who have taken in refugees from Ukraine.
Vasiliy and Klavdia against the war
The UN number one visited a retired couple, Vasiliy and Klavdia Turkanu, who are now hosting a second group of refugees from Ukraine. One of the two rooms in her small apartment is occupied by a mother, her daughter and Nikolayev’s grandmother; earlier, two boys from Odessa had been housed there.
Klavdia says that her guests can stay until the war is over. “We understand what they’re going through,” she says sadly. “We, for example, might feel homesick during a trip. Home is the most important thing we have. And they can’t go home.”
“Why do people go to war?” Vasiliy wonders. “They could have lived in peace and negotiated everything amicably.”
After the visit to Vasiliy and Klavdia, the Secretary again expressed his admiration for “the magnanimity of the Moldovans. Moldova can serve as an example of solidarity.”
Support to Moldova
This Tuesday, in the meeting with the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, the Secretary General stressed that Moldova, unlike other countries that are hosting refugees, is not a member of the European Union and, therefore, cannot count on the support Of the same. Also, the consequences of the war in Ukraine put pressure on the country’s economy: the influx of refugees, rising prices and the closure of the Odessa seaport.
For all these reasons, the Secretary assured President Sandu that the UN will not leave Moldova alone with its problems. In addition to assuring that the Organization will contribute to the strengthening of government institutions, Guterres urged the international community to support this small European country, which is the one that receives the most refugees in relation to the size of its population.
Despite his busy schedule, the UN chief found time to meet with Moldovan youth representatives, in particular with members of the UN Youth and Adolescent Advisory Group. Young people raised concerns with him about the fact that at his age people are leaving the country en masse in search of a better life.
To stop the exodus, it is imperative that certain conditions are guaranteed in your country: getting an education, finding a job and gaining financial independence is crucial.
The Secretary-General believes that Moldova has earned comprehensive support and promised to do everything possible to mobilize the international community to achieve this.