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Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a GNI per capita (final income per year) of 4,200 eur in 2020. Yet it has received the most Ukrainian refugees in proportion to its population. In March 2023, the country recorded more than 100,000 refugees in the country.
In October 2022, annual inflation had reached 34.6%, the highest in Europe and four times higher than in October 2021. Moldova has a population of 2.59 million people and 13.3% is living below 5 eur per day, while the employment rate is of 38.8%.
The emergency team of Action Against Hunger Spain started working on the border with Moldova, initially assisting Ukrainian refugees. After almost three months of intervention, it has set up an office in the country with a core team and ongoing projects as well as a number of identified partners.
On the front line of the conflict, our teams met Ukrainians and Moldovans whose daily lives have been disrupted since the conflict began. In response, a real chain of solidarity has been organised by local volunteers and associations. Read their testimonies.
Five-years old Macsim Celpan pictured with his three years-old Anisea Celpan and his mother, Maria Celpan (25 years old).The three live in a very small house in a small village in Volintiri, in the district of Stefan Voda, Moldova. Macsim has infantile cerebral palsy since he was born.
Marias was in her twenties when she gave birth to Macsim. The father, with whom she had lived since she was 17, abandoned her, Macsim and Anisea, and is living abroad and not supporting the family in any way.
Macsim’s disability means that he has to be helped on a daily basis by his mother to move, go to the toilet or eat. Maria thus cannot work. She stays in the house every day. Maria prepares his food with a blender; otherwise, Macsim cannot swallow the food. Maria explains that Macsim uses many diapers every day. Also, Macsim needs specific types of medicine that can only be found outside of Moldova. Maria goes to the city of Stefan Voda twice a year to order the medication. This has a total cost of 4,000 lei (approximately 200 eur) per year, which is an amount very difficult to cover for a vulnerable family. Maria used to receive monthly 3,000 lei (approximately 140 eur) from the Moldovan state since Macsim was officially diagnosed with a disability.
Maria explains that most of this money is spent on needs for Macsim: diapers, food, and hygiene items.
Maria’s family is one of the beneficiaries of a joint project between Action Against Hunger and the Municipality of Stefan Voda to support vulnerable Moldovan families. Within this project, families with at least one of its members with a disability are being supported with a special mobile team. We provide them with food and hygiene kits, as well as MHPSS and exercise. Maria shared that she is very grateful for this support and helps her save some money.
The family’s situation has worsened since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. The socioeconomic situation of Moldova was already bad before the war, but it has worsened. Moldova relied heavily on imports from Ukraine and Russia for its food and energy needs. The hostilities have threatened to disrupt imports, which in turn have led to increased prices and higher economic vulnerability of the host and refugee population.
Elena Novikova, Ukrainian refugee from Cherkasy, in central Ukraine. Elena is 75 years old and lives in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, in the community center where she lives with other Ukrainian refugees (most of all, women with their children, whose male partners and male family members stayed in Ukraine) and vulnerable communities. She sleeps in a room full of beds with other refugees.
On February 22, 2022, Elena was in Moldova for a business trip. She used to work at a company that delivered wheat grain from the port of Mykolaiv. While she was in Moldova, the conflict in Ukraine started. She could not go back and had to stay in Moldova, where she still lives almost a year after she arrived. She lost her business due to war. She had previously lost her husband due to COVID.
She also had a daughter: five years before the war, Elena had saved her daughter from cancer thanks to a crowdfunding campaign she launched and, thanks to her perseverance, she received enough money for a treatment for her daughter. In April 2022, two rockets hit a building close to the apartment where her daughter used to live in Ukraine. Ever since, Elena never heard back from her. Elena assumes her daughter is dead. Due to trauma, Elena went almost blind. She has severe vision impairment and can barely see. “I am getting used to not seeing“.
The same month she lost her daughter, a baby was born in the community center Elena lives. A baby from a Ukrainian mother. Elena goes every week to the Dignity Center, a project by Action Against Hunger and Moldova for Peace, supported by volunteers from Refugee Support Europe and funded by DEC, to get food for free for the mother and the child, who is now 10 months old. She also brings sweets for the kids living in the community center. Elena was constantly smiling, and laughed several times when we helped her eat her lunch because she cannot see. She shared: “I hope that soon the sky will be peaceful all over the world” and added: “I want to thank the people of Moldova, humanitarian organizations and everyone for their support.“
Aurelia Istratii is a Moldovan woman from the district of Stefan Voda. She has
been living for the past 6 years with his husband in Palanca, working for a center that suppots children from vulnerable Moldovan families in Palanca by giving them hot meals and a space to do their homework.
When the war in Ukraine started on the 24th of February 2022, the center became a shelter and a place to get hot meals for the more or less 2,000 Ukrainian refugees crossing the border through Palanca every day. Aurelia shares that she did not hesitate for a single moment to support all the people in need: she felt their pain and worked very hard every day, cooking for all the Ukrainian refugees to provide them with hot meals.
During the highest peak of influx of refugees crossing through Palanca, Aurelia barely slept 3 hours every night and worked endlessly to cook and support Ukrainian refugees, mainly women with their kids and elder people. Aurelia even crossed the border and got into Ukraine with other colleagues to provide food to thousands of refugees waiting in queue for days to cross to Moldova.
She recalls receiving Ukrainian refugees that were extremely cold. She says: “they were very confused, did not know anything about their future. They needed food, water and shelter. It was very hard and many were freezing.“
Action Against Hunger and local partner Communitas started to support this kitchen from the very beginning and continue to do so ever since. Aurelia is one of the cooks at the kitchen. Aurelia and this kitchen is still supporting Ukrainian refugees who arrive in evacuation buses from Ukraine to Palanca, more or less 30-40 per day.
Tatiana Bubrova, Ukrainian refugee, over 70 years old, working in the Action Against Hunger and Moldova for Peace distribution center in Balti, Moldova. Tatiana is from Kramatorsk, a city located in the northern portion of Donetsk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine.
Tatiana was living with her daughter and granddaughter (4 years old) in Irpin by the time the war started on the 24th of February 2022. Irpin is part of the Kyiv Oblast and became the site of a battlefield engagement during the Kyiv offensive in 2022.
Tatiana, her daughter, and her granddaughter left Ukraine on the 2nd of March of 2022. Tatiana shared: “It was very scary. There were rockets as Kyiv was being heavily bombarded. We lived in the basement for 4 days. We had no other choice but to flee.” Only 5 families remained in the neighborhood where Tatiana and her daughter used to live in Irpin.
"we cannot go back to our family house in Kramatorsk because it hasbeen destroyed."
At the beginning, Tatiana and her family did not have any support, but after a couple of weeks heard from other refugees that there was support available from aid organizations. She sought support in one church and stated to volunteer there. Later, Tatiana found out about the distribution center in Balti. She did not hesitate and started to work as a volunteer to distribute meals and hygiene items to Ukrainian refugees: “It is only natural to me to help other people. As a retired person, I used to volunteer in Ukraine too to support vulnerable communities.”
Action Against Hunger hired her and has been working in the distribution center since July 2022. The family is currently living in the building where the Action Against Hunger and Moldova for Peace distribution center is. Tatiana shares that she can feel the impact her work is having on refugees’ lives. Many people come regularly, and new people are coming, which, for Tatiana, means that they are happy with the help and items provided.
Since the beginning of the mission in Moldova, we have distributed 23,000 hot meals at the Ukrainian border, rehabilitated 7 refugee reception centres, sent more than 1,300 kilos of food to Ukraine, 2700 hygiene kits in Ukraine and Moldavia. And we are starting to implement cash transfer to Ukrainian refugees, host families of Ukrainian refugees and vulnerable Moldovan families.
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