On the second day of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ visit to Chisinau, he drew attention to a migration crisis without refugee camps, as 95 per cent of Ukrainians are living with Moldovan families.
“People have opened their homes and their hearts to the Ukrainians”, he said, in admiration for the hospitality being extended to the refugees.
Home away from home
During his visit, the UN chief stopped in on a couple hosting refugees in their two-room apartment.
Vasiliy and Klavdia Turkanu, a retired couple, have taken in a mother, daughter and grandmother– all refugees from Nikolayev. And previously, they had hosted two men from Odessa.
“We understand what they are going through," Klavdia said sadly, 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.
Cash works best
The UN chief maintained that under the circumstances, cash assistance is the best form of support.
“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 with tears streaming down her cheeks.
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 her sobs.
“We left almost immediately the war had begun, really frightened for our children. And yesterday we learned that our shopping centre is totally ruined”, she told Mr. Guterres.
"I am impressed by the extraordinary generosity of the people and the government of #Moldova. 95% of the refugees are in houses. Moldovans have opened their borders but have also opened their homes and their hearts with an enormous generosity," -- @antonioguterres pic.twitter.com/z5ousAxgs8— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) May 10, 2022
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 one hundred thousand remain in Moldova.
The multi-layered crisis requires food, shelter, psychological support, and medical assistance – problems familiar to the UN chief during his years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Moldova support the refugees with basic amenities with help from the UN family – including UNHCR, UNICEF, the Population Fund (UNFPA), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Food Program (WFP).
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.
The Women’s Law Centre works at the border and alerts women to a possible danger.
Its head, Mariana Buruiana, called "awareness" the principal weapon against such crimes.
UN News discussed a recent complaint with the head of another organization, “La Strada”.
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.
These civil society organizations are providing critical support to women and girls - including refugees and internally displaced persons – on the front lines of the Ukraine crisis, and are being financed by the UN's Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.
Although the war in Ukraine has exerted tremendous pressure on the economy of Moldova, the UN chief reminded that the country is not a member of the European Union and , cannot count on its support.
He assured President Maia Sandu during a meeting that the UN would not abandon Moldova and urged the international community to support the small European country that has taken in the largest number of refugees in relation to its population size.
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.