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Yesterday marked seven weeks since Russian forces invaded Ukraine. During that time we’ve watched the numbers of those displaced, killed and maimed rise daily. February 24, 2022 was the start of a campaign of violence that has forced more than 4.7 million people to flee Ukraine; an additional 7.2 million people are internally displaced—they’ve fled their homes but remain within Ukraine. More than half of those displaced are children and the numbers continue to grow each day. 

While the largest number of refugees have fled to Poland the highest per capita have and continue to arrive at the border of Moldova. The small, poor but generous country of less than 3 million people has so far received more than 400,000 Ukrainians; while many of those individuals have traveled on to other countries many remain within Moldova, largely in the capital of Chișinău. 

Throughout Chișinău, Moldovan private citizens, local ond international aid organizations and volunteers are working together to provide food, housing, medical care and more for the of flood of people leaving Ukraine. The need is overwhelming and still expected to grow as Russia continues its indiscriminate and targeted attacks on cities and civilians.

For the past six weeks I’ve worked throughout Chișinău and much of Ukraine; in that time I've documented the heroic efforts being made to provide for those who’ve been forced to flee and met now countless Ukrainians who've shared of their lives and of their experiences leaving home. Below is some of what I've seen, learned and been told. In the next newsletter I will share about a 3-day, 750-mile evacuation mission that delivered critical supplies to the besieged city of Chernihiv and evacuated more than 200 people from Mykolaiv.

Inside the Manej Sports Arena several hundred cots are encircled by stadium seating and a decrepit running track. Once a place where athletes practiced and competed, the sports facility became a temporary home for between 600 and 800 refugees, most of who are Romani. All have fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion and ongoing bombardment of cities and civilians. 

Moldova’s authorities have largely separated Roma refugees from ethnic Ukrainians; some accuse the authorities of racism while others insist that the separation is an attempt to “prevent tensions between the two ethnicities and better provide for their specific needs."
The importance of a warm meal far surpasses basic nourishment—it reminds people that others care and provides a semblance of comfort where there is often little other. 

In Ukraine, and throughout five bordering nations, providing food for those who’ve been displaced is a massive undertaking. 

In Moldova, World Central Kitchen is working closely with local partner restaurants and a cadre of volunteers to provide warm meals to a growing refugee population in Chisinau, the capital of a small nation that shares a 759-mile border with Ukraine.
“We left everything behind, but we couldn’t leave them. They’ve traveled with us all the way from Mikolaiv and they’ll continue on this journey, wherever we end up.”

At Patria Lukoil, a former cinema turned shelter for Ukrainian refugees in Chișinău, Moldova, one room is dedicated to those who crossed the border with their cats. For some, especially the youngest at Lukoil, this small comfort helps ease the trauma of being forcibly displaced.
As people prioritize basic safety and survival, the mental health toll of this war is only beginning to show itself.

“These kids have experienced immense stress and trauma. They’ve been displaced. They don’t know if there is a home waiting for them. The most comforting and reassuring things in life have been pulled from under their feet. Their home, their family, their father who stayed back there. And children are very good at sensing the atmosphere around them. So even if the parents are trying to stay strong for the children they realize when the mother is terrified because there are shootings and explosions.”
“We have come upon some patients where this kind of tipped them over, people who were doing well with medication and this kind of threw them off. But many people—I would say almost all—are with no background of mental health problems but have developed stress, night terrors, panic attacks and difficulties sleeping. Parents, they try to stay strong for their children but they report that they can’t fall asleep at night. And they want assistance with sleeping pills and things like that.”

“All of these women…they left behind their sons or their husbands. They don’t have any communication with them. They don’t know what’s going on, if they’re alive or dead. There is a lot of fear and a lot stress.”

“It’s an entire population who has either stayed back and is under the constant stress and terror of war or those who packed their lives into one suitcases and started traveling between all of these foreign places. I think we will see in the near future all of these post trauma effects. Any plan rehabilitating these refugees must include a strong psychological structure; I don’t know how you do that for an entire population.”

Dr. Jonathan Yeshayahu shared his observations as part of a team of doctors from the Israeli NGO @dreamdoctorsproject who spent time with children and adults at a shelter for Ukrainian refugees in Chișinău, Moldova. The group provided laughs, a learned and empathetic ear and medical care.

Ana and her son fled Mykolaiv, Ukraine after a bomb shattered her arm. Ana shared her experience from the basement of a Chișinău shelter shortly after their evacuation convoy arrived.
"If they call him then he must go”

Ramilya, 35, fled Mykolaiv, Ukraine with her children, her sister Ira and Ira’s children. Together the two women crossed from Ukraine into Moldova and accepted transportation and the offer for temporary accommodation from a church in Chişinău. 

“It was scary to leave, but we could not stay; it was not safe for me, for my children, for anyone. Putin is killing civilians. We left our husbands and my father. My husband, he is not a soldier, but if they call him then he must go.”

“Tomorrow we go to Azerbaijan and we will wait. We will wait and when it is safe we will go back to Mykolaiv.”
“We are afraid because if our army (Ukrainian) manages to get in then battles will be in the town and in the streets. There are too many kids. I work as a school teacher and I see how many kids there are…and I know what happens in Mariupol—we have some relatives still there—only one cousin managed to get through. She wrote a message when she could but now it’s been about 20 days and we don’t know nothing. There is no connection.”

“In Mykolaiv the situation is much harder than in Kherson. Kherson is just occupied. There was only one destroyed house, maybe on the 24th or 25th of February. All of the battles were outside the city. But the sound is terrifying. Because the city is not a city really; it’s a town and we would hear everything that was happening. The nights were really terrible.”

“We want to return, of course, but I don’t know when this will be possible. We pray to God that they finish. I believe that Ukrainians deserve to live and to have all of the land they had before the war.”

Andre, Ana, Viromira and little Daria all fled Kherson, Ukraine. We met at the Palanca border crossing, a jointly operated division between Moldova and Ukraine, and Ana shared their experience. The family has their own vehicle and planned to drive to Italy. 

* Ana messaged me last night; they have arrived safely in Italy. 
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Copyright © 2022 Maranie R. Staab, All rights reserved.
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