Since the beginning of the war, more than 400,000 Ukrainians have crossed the border with Moldova. Despite the fact that it is the poorest country in Europe, it welcomes Ukrainian refugees with dignity and helps them. The journalist of the Socportal Yaroslava Zolotko writes about her experience of staying in Moldova.
- Why Moldova
- What kind of assistance you can count on in Moldova
- Ukrainian refugees: what are they
- The issue of legalization for Ukrainians in Moldova
- dopomoga project
- Transnistria: what's next
Moldova is not a member of the European Union or NATO. It is a neutral country, as the President of the State, Maia Sandu, has repeatedly stated. Although Moldova does not pay benefits to refugees from Ukraine, as Germany does, our people continue to come here to escape the war.
About 95-97 thousand Ukrainians still remain in Moldova. In total, about 411 thousand people crossed the border with a neighboring state, most of whom went to other countries. The population of Moldova is about 2.6 million people and this number of refugees is a significant burden for this country.
Since I also came to Moldova in the first week of the war, I was interested to know how this state copes with so many refugees. I talked to Alexander Makukhin , Doctor of Political Science, migration specialist and managing administrator of the dopomoga.gov.md project.
He met the beginning of the war in Warsaw, where in 2019 he defended a scientific work on the topic of emigration, and now he taught. There he began to help Ukrainian refugees.
At 6 am, a Polish colleague called me and said that the war had begun. It was an absolutely wild feeling. For several days I was there, helping to meet the first refugees at the Warsaw railway station, then for several days at the border, a Polish-Ukrainian-Russian-speaking volunteer was needed there,” says Alexander.
Then he returned to Chisinau and continued to help Ukrainians already in Moldova, since the country does not have such competencies and opportunities for accepting refugees as the EU countries.
Ukrainian migration to Poland is a well-known story. And Moldova practically did not face migration. Before the start of the war, we had about 100 requests for asylum per year: mostly people from Syria, Afghanistan or some African countries. It was completely different from what is happening now. Also, earlier the main applicants for some status, most often a residence permit, were spouses. Citizenship was accepted even less per year - about 50-60 people, - says Alexander.
According to him, there are several reasons why Ukrainians choose Moldova:
No language barrier. Although the official language in the state is Moldovan, almost everyone understands Russian. Also, price tags in stores are duplicated in Russian, there are Russian-speaking schools.
Prices comparable to Ukrainian ones. Food and renting an apartment will cost no more than in Ukraine, and travel by transport will be cheaper. Although with the arrival of a large number of refugees, prices have risen here as well.
Affordable housing. Until February 24, a one-room apartment in Chisinau cost from 150 euros, now this figure can be safely multiplied by two. But it's still cheaper than in EU countries. There, on average, prices start at 600 euros.
Most of all in Chisinau you can find cars with Odessa and Nikolaev numbers.
Odessa and Chisinau are very connected. Probably, there is no Chisinau resident who has never traveled to Odessa. There were also many commercial connections. Odessans and residents of Nikolaev are the closest to go to the border with Moldova. Only those who had relatives here came to us from Lvov,” says Oleksandr.
What kind of assistance you can count on in Moldova
Here you will not receive a monthly living allowance, but the state, public organizations and volunteers help as much as they can.
Housing. You won't stay on the street. Now, compared to other European countries, there are more chances to get decent housing in Moldova.
Within a few hours after crossing the border, a place will be found for a person, and it will not just be a sleeping place in the barracks. Conditions will be human. For example, they live in hostels. Now, in principle, such a situation is impossible for a person to end up on the street if he has no money and nowhere to go. There will always be a place for him. Another issue is that not all people want to live in a hostel, says Alexander.
Grocery kits. Refugees can receive food packages. They are issued by several organizations after a certain period of time (for example, once every 10 days). It also includes shampoos and hygiene products. For babies, diapers and infant formula are provided.
Nutrition. If a person settles in housing provided by the state / volunteers, then, as a rule, he can also count on food.
One-time payments . Caritas and the organization Katalyst Kitchens give all Ukrainians 2200 lei. It's about 110 euros. The child is also entitled to such payment. This applies even to those who did not apply for refugee status (it is necessary to show a document confirming Ukrainian citizenship). So far, the payment is a one-time payment, but it may be made monthly. Also, payments are due to Moldovan citizens who let refugees in free of charge.
There is information that the aid of 2200 lei will be made monthly. In addition, a special assistance package (3500 lei) is given to those who accommodate refugees free of charge. Ukrainians are also given vouchers to supermarkets and pharmacies. If a person lives in a refugee center, they are provided with food. Even medical restrictions on diets are taken into account. You can get a free online IDNP (identification number), which allows you to get a job in the country, - says Alexander.
The medicine. With medicine, the situation is more complicated. Officially, medical services for citizens of Ukraine are paid (except for emergency medical care). At the same time, some private and public clinics posted posts on their pages in social networks that they were ready to accept Ukrainian refugees for free. Volunteers also provide free veterinary care. Since many come with cats and dogs, this is relevant.
Ukrainian refugees: what are they
Until February 24, Moldova had not encountered such a large number of visitors. Ukrainian refugees are fundamentally different from refugees from eastern and southern countries.
Moldova is a polyethnic country. We have a very large distribution of different languages and nationalities. It removes a significant part of the problems that government officials speak the same language that refugees also speak. Many things are related to the basic structure of behavior. With Ukrainian refugees, we have plus or minus the same form of behavior. There is also one religion - Orthodoxy. People do not differ much - Ukrainian refugees from the inhabitants of Moldova. Until you talk to a person, you will not know if he is a refugee or not, the expert says.
There is no room for xenophobia here.
There was a story when they tried to spin the topic that refugees from Ukraine behave incorrectly and oppress the local population. But this topic was quickly suppressed on the social agenda, as this is not true. Moldovan society quickly said: these are people who are no different from us. And this story about “they are no different from us”, it works in both directions - Ukrainians do not want to leave Moldova, because they understand that they are the same as the locals, unlike the situation, for example, in Germany, - says Alexander .
There are schools in Moldova that teach in Russian, as well as schools that teach the Ukrainian language and the history of Ukraine.
Moldovan calm polyethnicity is based on the ability of the Moldovan society to agree on any issues. Moldovans are used to the fact that people with a different language and culture can live around them, the expert explains.
According to him, in 30 years the Moldovan society has come a long way and has come to accept the fact that we are all different. And paradoxically, the war in Ukraine has made the society here even more understanding.
The issue of legalization for Ukrainians in Moldova
Most Ukrainians are now in Moldova on a visa-free basis (90 days). As an option, you can apply for refugee status, but there are many myths about lack of rights around this status, so many do not risk applying for it.
The Moldovan migration system differs from the system for accepting refugees in the European Union. Now the majority of Ukrainians are in Moldova on a visa-free basis. Before the start of the war, he was 90 days, and then another 90 days you need to leave. On May 24, there will be a deadline when those people who arrived here on February 24 will end their visa-free travel. Now the migration police are working on the basis of how to extend it. It is possible that all citizens of Ukraine will be automatically extended their residence status for another 90 days. Approximately 7,200 Ukrainians applied for refugee status - approximately 8% of the total number now living in the country. It's not very much. But this is a story about the lack of information and the myths that surround this status. I personally see how deliberately false information is spread in various chats and communities. For example, there is a well-known myth that if you apply for asylum, they will take away all Ukrainian documents and never give them back. It is not true. Documents are taken for a period of 2 to 3 weeks when they make the status. Upon completion of the procedure, a refugee card is issued. After that, all documents related to Ukraine are returned. If a refugee wants to go back, he goes to the migration police and writes an application for termination of status and the procedure for voluntary repatriation. Every refugee has an a priori right to return home, says Alexander.
The expert advises those who decide not to go further, but to stay in Moldova for a long time to apply for refugee status.
I understand that people are tired of the war and it is difficult to make a decision, but I advise you to think over a further strategy. After all, a person who has received refugee status cannot be expelled from Moldova. Security will be guaranteed to him, - says the expert.
Much rests on financial problems.
Moldova is a poor country. It is clear that European partners are helping us. But many economic problems remain, and the state probably fears that if many people stay here and ask for financial assistance, then it simply will not be able to provide it. It is clear that no one wants to be in a situation where there are no resources, but there are people who have trusted and are waiting for protection and help, - Alexander believes.
The site https://dopomoga.gov.md/ provides information assistance to refugees in Moldova. Here you can find out about housing that they can be provided for free, medical centers, as well as various help centers. Here you can also learn about changes in the legislation regarding refugees from Ukraine. The design of the site is concise so that the resource can be opened normally from mobile devices, which are usually used by refugees on the road.
The site began to be created on February 26. The project is almost entirely Russian-speaking, so that it would be easier for refugees from the southern regions, who are in the majority here.
It was a conscious choice. It is clear that the site should not be in Romanian, as 95% of the refugees do not understand Romanian. The choice in favor of Russian dominance was not political, not because we want to show Russia how wonderful we are, but to make the language more understandable for the residents of the South-East of Ukraine, at the same time it is also understandable for the residents of Western Ukraine. Our main task is to convey the most understandable information. People are under stress, it is already difficult for them to read, and we try to convey information as simply as possible.
The site was made following the example of similar resources in Poland and Slovakia.
My friends began to create a resource literally on their knees, accumulating links where refugees can apply. A few days later, representatives of the government (Electronic Governance Agency) came to us and offered their help. This is how we became gov.md as a state resource. Since March 1, we have been working in partnership - we have consolidated our efforts with government agencies by adding links to government resources to our website. As of today, since February 26, we have 300 thousand unique users, and up to 200 unique users are online every minute. This is an indication that such assistance to people is very important. People come who need to understand where to go, - says Alexander.
Transnistria: what's next
The topic of unrecognized Transnistria (PMR) is being discussed in the media. Thus, in April in Tiraspol, near the military unit near the village of Parkany and on the tower of the radio and television center near the village of Mayaki, terrorist attacks took place. Now in the unrecognized republic declared a red level of terrorist danger.
Experts from both the Ukrainian side and from the PMR and Russia are discussing a possible escalation in the region. Ukraine claims that the Russian Federation can use the PMR to encircle and seize the Odessa region, Russia claims that Ukraine is allegedly interested in aggravating the situation in Transnistria, and the inhabitants of the unrecognized republic simply want to live in peace.
Most people in Transnistria do not support any war, in any form. They understand the contradictory situation in which they find themselves, and that no one will ask them about the need for any war, they will simply be confronted with a fact, and they are very afraid of this. This fear in Tiraspol is like "stale air that you can touch with your hands," Alexander Makukhin believes.
Transnistria is different from the "LDNR". It is more integrated, including with Ukrainian business. Influential in Transnistria, the Sheriff Corporation (a monopoly that owns both supermarkets and gas stations) are people who do not want any conflict, as this threatens their business.
I really hope that such influential people will not allow an aggravation, - says the expert.
Those who support the war in Ukraine and call it a “special operation” are few in number and, as a rule, they are elderly people. They are nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for their youth, plus they watch Russian media telling that civilians in Ukraine do not suffer or die.
There are a minority of combat-ready people in Transnistria who would support the war, Alexander adds.
He also commented on the external influence on the PMR.
There is an obvious story about pressure on Tiraspol from both Moscow and Kyiv. And then the question is, in which direction the Pridnestrovian authorities will go. I would like nothing to happen, but I understand that this is a story about a clash of huge powerful forces, in which Pridnestrovie is one piece on the board that can be moved in one direction or another. But Pridnestrovie is not a monolithic society in support of the Russian line, there are many internal contradictions there, the expert believes.
He is also skeptical about the possibility of the PMR army to attack Odessa .
It is technically impossible, these are people who do not want to go to any war. These are people who usually have a lot of passports. I know a person who has 5, but in general 3 is a normal story. This also imposes legal aspects, since in this case they are also citizens of Moldova. The level of security and combat capability is extremely low. Even if you imagine an evil will that will drive these people to any military confrontation, it will be suicide. And even if some official gives such an order, chances are high that this order will not be carried out. People are not prone to suicidal actions, says Alexander.
There are warehouses with weapons, but the question is about its quality.
They have ammunition depots, but outdated, and the question is what is in those depots. I would say that the potential of those ammunition depots is much lower than it was in the 90s. It is necessary to take into account the corruption factor: some of this ammunition was sold. The level of security of those military is extremely low, especially compared to what security is now in Ukraine. I can't imagine a situation for the PMR to attack Ukraine. I can imagine that such a decision could be made by an individual official, but I can’t imagine that all the inhabitants, like zombies, would follow such an order, the expert reassures.
It should also be emphasized that the PMR peacekeepers are mostly local, although they wear Russian epaulettes. There are several dozen regular Russian officers there, no more. Alexander also spoke about whether Ukraine could "attack" Transnistria. This topic is actively discussed in the PMR social networks.
In all military conflicts there are separate agents who are interested in them. I think there are some in this case. But from the point of view of the law and internationally recognized borders, Transnistria is part of the territory of the Republic of Moldova and the overwhelming majority of citizens of the Republic of Moldova live there. You can discuss various statuses as much as you like, but any military intervention on the territory of Moldova in any part of it is an attack on the country as a whole. Yes, there were a lot of extremely strange, as it seems to me, statements by various figures that “it would be possible, because ...” - and a lot of arguments after. But I really hope that the Ukrainian side is well aware that Pridnestrovie does not cease to be part of Moldova. On the part of Chisinau, there will obviously not be any “requests for help”, no, even the most hypothetical scenarios of a “military solution” of the issue are on the agenda and will not be, - says the expert.
However, if the conflict does start in the PMR, there may be more asylum seekers in Chisinau.
We hope that this will not happen. But if it does happen, then we will have to think about expanding the project. This is the case when you really don't want to think about it. Here the legal point is that 95% of the population of Transnistria have the right to Moldovan citizenship, since they were born on the territory of the USSR. And now, according to the Public Services Agency, this process is actively underway - the number of residents of the region who want to receive or update Moldovan documents has sharply increased. The reasons for these actions are generally obvious, - Alexander emphasizes.
Ukrainians in Moldova still have to follow the development of the situation and hope that this country will remain as peaceful and tolerant as it is now.