Moldova, the most fragile of war-torn Ukraine’s neighbors, needs and deserves massive support to match its generosity as a recipient of nearly half a million refugees, and to preserve its own stability, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, the UN chief said: “Moldova is not just another country receiving refugees … I am deeply concerned about the continuation and possible spread of the war Russia is waging in Ukraine, and by the impact it is having not only in the region but around the world.”
“The United Nations is committed to supporting not only the people of Ukraine, but also the people of Moldova during these difficult times,” said Mr. Guterres, adding: “Your sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and the solid progress you have made over the past three decades, must not be threatened or undermined.”
‘Refugees live with the families of Moldovans’
The United Nations started a large-scale operation meant to render assistance to residents of Ukraine, including those on the territory of Moldova. At the border crossing in Palanca refugees are greeted by UN staff who help them find their bearings and to decide what to do next, render material and legal support and provide them with basic necessities.
“But obviously, that is not enough. We need to do much more,” stressed the Secretary-General at the start of his two-day visit to the country.
“It was not easy for the UN to readapt to a humanitarian crisis in Europe. Here, we don’t have the traditional forms of humanitarian support as in crisis areas of the developing world, in fragile States,” continued Mr. Guterres, adding that in Moldova, there are no refugee camps. Moldovans are opening their homes to Ukrainians.
The UN has rearranged its ways of working to meet these realities and is currently scaling up its most effective programmes, including for providing cash-assistance. The UN chief said people should be trusted to know what their needs are.
The UN plans to provide such assistance to 90,000 refugees and 55,000 of the families that that take them in.
War’s impact ripples through region’s fragile economies
Moldova is a small European country with “fragile economy”. It is landlocked, and the Odessa port, through which it ships its merchandise to the world market, is closed due to the war.
Furthermore, Moldova is not just the country that opened its doors to displaced persons, like many of its neighbors: in ratio to the size of its population, it has taken in the highest number of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the Russian invasion.
While calling for “massive support” to match Moldova’s generosity, the Secretary-General stressed that other neighbouring countries like Moldova are already struggling with the socio-economic ramifications of this war coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uneven global recovery.
In light of these and other pressing concerns, the UN chief urged Kyiv and Moscow to “step up diplomatic efforts through dialogue to urgently achieve a negotiated settlement, in line with international law and the UN Charter”, and he called on regional and international partners to support this process “in the interests of global stability.”
“The impact of the war in Ukraine across the region and the world is profound and far-reaching. The consequences of escalation are too frightening to contemplate,” he stated, stressing: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine must stop. The guns must be silenced.”
Bedrock of peace and security
“On 9 May, on this very day, we must remember that dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect are the bedrock of peace and security in Europe and around the world,” Mr. Guterres said, referring to what is known as ‘Victory Day’, which marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II in 1945.
This year, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the anniversary of the victory over fascism was met with some apprehension in Chisinau, with media outlets in the region reporting possible mass actions and even the threat of clashes between supporters of different approaches in assessing those historical events.
“The fact that I am here on the 9th of May is a pure coincidence. This visit is programmed in association with the meeting of the [United Nations] Chief Executives Board in Vienna, and so, it was convenient, both for the Government of Moldova and for me”, said Mr. Guterres, responding to a question from a journalist.
The Secretary General congratulated Moldova on the 30th anniversary of joining the United Nations. In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the acquisition of independence. In this context, he highly appreciated Moldova’s contribution to peacebuilding, promotion of sustainable development and gender equality, as well as to the fight against climate change.
Funding for humanitarian aid
The UN has appealed for $2.5 billion for humanitarian aid in Ukraine, and $1.85 billion for support for Ukrainian refugees in other countries.
“I urge all countries to give generously. In global terms, these are minuscule sums,” said the Secretary-General, also calling on all countries to consider strengthening their economic cooperation with Moldova.
While the current flow of refugees to Moldova is not comparable to the first weeks of the war, according to UN officials who have met with Ukrainians fleeing the war at the border, on some days, the number of arrivals increases sharply, usually due to an escalation in hostilities. According to UN estimates, by the end of the year, the number of refugees in Moldova may increase to one million people, with some 250,000 of them possibly remaining in the country.
Among his other activities today, the Secretary-General met with the Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Grosu, and on Tuesday he will meet with the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu.
Tomorrow, the UN chief is also expected to visit the MoldExpo exhibition center, where UN staff and civil society groups are working tirelessly to assist refugees from Ukraine. In addition, Mr. Guterres is also expected to visit one of the Chisinau families that has sheltered Ukrainians.