About 10,000 people live in the Moldovan town of Anenii Noi. Since the beginning of the war, Ukrainians who want to stay as close to their home as possible have started coming here. While 300 Ukrainians settled with local families, some newcomers found shelter in the refugee hub, which was urgently set up after the first days of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Olha and Liudmyla ask not to give their last names. They say “they don’t want popularity” and “there are people who have it much harder”. However, they are in tears as they tell about Ukraine. The relative safety fails to suppress the pain.
They drove through the Starokazache-Tudora checkpoint because Palanca was very busy, and spent the night in a hotel. Then they arrived in Chisinau and went to the refugee centre at Moldexpo to figure out what to do next.
“We just took an ad that was handed out. And then we called. We found out that a hub was set up here. We were the first ones to move in after the opening,” recalls Liudmyla.
Refugees also dream of a normal kitchen and a refrigerator. So far, only one gas stove is available. Volunteers bring ready food; another option is cooking in the neighbouring administrative building, which usually serves the elderly and lonely residents of the town.
“The sea is our life”
Why did you decide to stay in Moldova?
Olha: We don’t need to go further. We are happy to be close to home. It’s like we’re almost there. As soon as everything is fine, we go home!
Liudmyla: A highway makes it easy to get to Odesa. Zap and we’re home.
Do you have family in Odesa?
Olha: My children live outside Chisinau. They left earlier, because they have small kids. They are sharing a house with their friends. In total, there are 22 of them, children included. There are only four rooms, but they are happy to be together. Children are friends, which makes it much easier. Our men will not leave their homeland, though; only cowards run away.
Liudmyla: My husband is with me. My daughter and grandson remained in Odesa. My grandson is 26; he is a doctor and has no right to leave, so he works.
What was the turning point that made you leave? You did not leave Ukraine right away…
Olha: When you hear explosions and sirens. We are grown-ups; even too grown-up, actually. Our health is not very good. The anxiety over coronavirus that we had to live with over the last years has also affected us. My husband died a year ago of COVID-19; I was under a lot of stress.
Liudmyla: The worst thing is that we live in a house near the sea, and we constantly see ships with guns pointed at the city. You don’t know where that bomb will fall. We’ve seen about 12 ships ashore. They were destroying military units – one, two, three… When I saw Kharkiv and Kherson – what about the people there? It was horrible.
Olha: They come, stand, bang, and leave. They are gone during a storm, and then they are back. You keep wondering: when will they kill you?
What was the life like in the city when you left?
Liudmyla: They always bomb in the morning, about 4 or 5am. Everyone wakes up and runs wherever they can. We had no place to run. Odesa is a special city, in the end. We don’t have any Nazis. Who invented them? I don’t even know what they look like. We’re over 70 years old, but we don’t know why Putin made them up.
Olha: In Israel, all houses are equipped with bomb shelters; in Ukraine though, we haven’t had a major war since 1945. People were relaxed. We lived a beautiful life. We were doing fine. We used to spend weekends at the seaside, walking. The sea is our life.
Liudmyla: Now, everything is mined. Going to the shore is dangerous. It is very difficult for us. It’s so awful. The entire Crimean fleet came to our shore. Still, we didn’t expect that the Ukrainian army wpi;d be so powerful. These guys do a great job protecting us. The Russian paratroopers can’t land because they’re being destroyed. Our guys keep an eye on them.
Olha: Yes. My son-in-law, who is 57 years old, went to defend the city on the first day. Sitting in the trenches.
Liudmyla: We hope that Russia will come to its senses.
Olha: It won’t.
“Putin is offended.”
Did your houses survive?
Liudmyla: So far, everything is ok. There are only targeted bombings.
Olha: We feel somewhat safer here. The locals treat us very well. We feel their care and sympathy. The citizens of Moldova understand us. They have been through the war; they were in this fear and that’s why they understand us.
Liudmyla: This hub has a very good community. We are respected. We don’t feel unwanted.
What do you think of this war? Why is it possible in the 21st century?
Olha: As I understand it, Russia couldn’t stand Ukraine not being friends with it. Putin was offended. We were in the USSR; it fell apart. We were fine in the USSR, but we wanted to be independent. I will say this: our leadership should have understood even back then that if you want to be independent, and there are big states next to you, you must have a strong army. Yet, what were they doing? They were stealing and setting up their own Miami. Our presidents were bad. I don’t know if they like hearing that. If you were given power, work for the people and the state. That was the situation, and Putin thought they could take us with their bare hands. They wanted to make us poor.
Liudmyla: But he was wrong.
Olha: Yes, our guys said, “We will not give Ukraine away.” Still, it is also our fault that we gave power to the ignorant at the time.
Liudmyla: We understand that Putin came to destroy us, not to save us. He just wants to destroy us as a nation. Although we have so many ethnicities in Odesa…
Olha: With or without the USSR, I enjoy every moment of my life. My life was OK; the main thing is that there was no war.
Liudmyla: Where do young people go back to? How to live? Lives are broken, and houses ruined. After Bucha, it’s scary to imagine what could happen next…
“Many young people will return to rebuild Ukraine. They do not want to leave their country,” says Olha after we switch off the tape recorder. Tears well up in her eyes; they seem to be tears of pain as well as hope.
Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, humanitarian needs in Ukraine have skyrocketed. The war in Ukraine has already forced more than 11 million people to flee their homes, with more than 4 million ending up in neighbouring countries such as Moldova, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Most of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children.
On February 28, the European Commission announced an additional €90 million for humanitarian aid programmes to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine. This includes €85 million for Ukraine and €5 million for Moldova. On March 10, the EU allocated Moldova an additional €3 million in humanitarian aid. The most up-to-date data on emergency aid and the work of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism is available here.
We were able to talk to the refugees thanks to the support of the programme. There are now many avenues of support for Ukrainians in Moldova, from monetary to psychological. All useful links are collected here.
Author: Olha Konsevych
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