Moldovans open their borders, homes and hearts – UN chief

The United Nations

On the second day of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ visit to Chisinau, , he drew attention to a migration crisis without refugee camps, in awe that 95 per cent of Ukrainians are living with Moldovan families.

“People opened their homes and their hearts to the Ukrainians”, he said, in admiration for the hospitality extended to the refugees by the people.

Home away from home

This man and his wife are just one of the many Moldovans hosting Ukrainian refugees.

During one stop, the UN chief visited refugee hosts in their two-room apartment.

Vasiliy and Klavdia Turkanu, a retired couple, have taken in a mother, daughter and grandmother, all refugee women from Nikolayev. Previously, they had hosted two men from Odessa.

“We understand what they are going through, Klavdia said with sadness, assuring that their guests are welcome to stay until the end of the war.

“We become homesick when travelling. And they can’t go back home”.

Her husband wondered, “why do people wage wars when they could live in peace and negotiate everything in an amicable manner.

Mr. Guterres was impressed by their hospitality, acknowledging that “it is a strong emotional experience to communicate with people forced to abandon their homes under such dramatic circumstances”.

“Moldova can serve as an example of solidarity,” he added, admiring the country’s magnanimity.

Cash works best

The UN chief maintained that under these circumstances, cash assistance is the best form of support.

UN agencies, including UN refugee, UNHCR, and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) help refugees and their families with a Cash Assistance Programme.

“We are really grateful to Moldova and the United Nations for their assistance and support,” Lubov Fedorovna from Chernobayevka told the Secretary-General.

“Our village became famous because of the war as rockets literally flew above our heads,” she continued unable to contain her tears.

MoldExpo – Refugee Centre

Having temporarily settled in Moldova’s largest refugee centre, on the MoldExpo exhibition grounds, Irina, a mother of four from the Odessa region, could not contain tears.

“We left almost immediately the war had begun – we got really scared for our children. And yesterday we learned that our shopping centre where we had always shopped, is totally ruined”, she told Mr. Guterres.

Since the beginning of the war, this and other reception centers have processed almost half a million refugees.

And at the peak of Ukraine’s mass, the Chisinau complex housed over ten thousand people.

Although most have moved on to different countries, approximately hundred thousand remain in Moldova.

In supporting the refugees with basic amenities, Moldova receives help from the UN family, including UNHCR, UNICEF, the Population Fund (UNFPA), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Food Program (WFP).

The multi-layered crisis requires food, shelter, psychological support, and medical assistance – problems the UN chief faced during his years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Families separated

What is unique about this crisis is that the refugees are mainly women and children, observed the UN Secretary-General

“Men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, women and children are alone, and they are vulnerable, he said speaking to non-governmental organizations working with UN Women. “They can easily become victims of gender-based violence or human trafficking”.

In cooperation with Moldova’s law-enforcement agencies and civil society, the UN is doing everything it can to protect Ukrainians from such crimes.

On guard

The Women’s Law Centre, which works at the border and also receives communities, alerts women to a possible danger.

Its head, Mariana Buruiana called awareness the principal weapon against such crimes.

UN News spoke with the head of another organization called “La Strada” about a recent compleaint.

Elena Botezatu recounted that some employees became suspicious when they noticed how a man was treating his travel companion, a young woman.

“We immediately informed the specialized anti-human-trafficking unit of Moldovan police,” she said.

Supporting Moldova

Although the war in Ukraine has exerted tremendous pressure on the economy of Moldova, the UN chief reminded that as the country is not a member of the European Union, it cannot count on EU support.

While meeting President Maia Sandu, he assured her that the UN would not abandon Moldova, but would help bolster government institutions.

He also urged the international community to support the small European country that took in the largest number of refugees, relative to its population size.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) greets Maia Sandu, President of the Republic of Moldova.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) greets Maia Sandu, President of the Republic of Moldova.

Youth matter

Despite his busy schedule, the Secretary-General made time to meet with representatives of Moldova’s youth.

Members of the UN Moldova Adolescents and Youth Advisory Panel raised the important topic of young people leaving the country en masse in search of a better life.

To stop the exodus, Mr. Guterres stressed the importance of securing certain conditions in their homeland, such as an education, work and financial independence.

The top UN official promised to mobilize the international community to provide the comprehensive support that Moldova has earned.

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