The small Republic of Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Nevertheless, the people there are sacrificially taking care of refugees from Ukraine. CONCORDIA Social Projects supports them in this.
When the children return home from playing in the afternoon, their mothers pause for a moment. Together they look across to their homeland and think of their husbands and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who stayed in Ukraine. From the hill in the Moldovan border village of Tudora, it is only a few hundred metres to Ukraine. Sometimes the muffled sound of bombs can be heard...
At the beginning of March, when the war in Ukraine started, Elena and her parents decided to leave their home in a small town near Odessa with their sweet dog. When they finally landed at the Concordia transit centre in Ploiesti, Romania, the four of them were tired and exasperated.
20-year-old Elena is studying medicine - currently online - she wants to become an endocrinologist. She is a remarkable young woman, helpful, intelligent and very dedicated. Because Elena speaks English very well, she has become a real asset to our work with Ukrainian refugees. For the past three months, she has divided her time between her studies and assisting at the Concordia transit centre. Her translations are a great help to us in welcoming new people who often arrive scared and discouraged. Elena also writes the weekly shopping lists so that we can get the most necessary things for the refugees: Hygiene articles, clothes, food.
"My life is completely different from three months ago, everything has changed. Since then I have been at home here. Sometimes it's hard for me, especially because of my studies and exams, but it is what it is and I have to move forward. I am happy that I can help the people here."
Not everyone stays in the safety of a foreign country
Elena's sister had also fled to Romania with her husband, but a few days ago she travelled back to Ukraine. But not at all because the danger is over. The sister works for a water supply company in the city and was called to the office. Afraid of losing her job, she returned to the war zone.
Elena's 74-year-old grandmother did not want to leave her home country in the first place. She stayed in Ukraine and watches over her small house.
A difficult situation for Elena and her parents. Knowing themselves to be safe while their loved ones are exposed to constant danger in the war zone is stressful for the family.
"We hope that we too will be able to return home in a few weeks. Even though we have everything we need here - and we are very grateful for that - we miss our house, our country and our loved ones," Elena tells us.
"Two years ago, my husband died of a stroke. At that time, a world came to an end for me, I thought it couldn't get any worse. And then the war started," says Xenia, who worked as a tram driver in Odessa for over 20 years.
Together with her son, daughter and grandchildren, she fled to Tudora.
There, Xenia was taken in by Liuba, a strong woman. Today, the two are good friends, and Liuba's house is now Xenia's home. But our Concordia centre has also become part of her family. After breakfast, Xenia goes there with her son Maxim to play and eat. Maxim is 34 years old, but mentally he is severely impaired. At the centre, he has made friends with the children of the refugee families. Together they build towers out of building blocks. "Not all the children understand Maxim, but they are considerate and have adapted," says Veronica, the head of the centre in Tudora.
Maxim is like a little child, his mother cannot go to work here, she cannot leave her son alone. Nevertheless, she wants to help. On her way home, she therefore delivers food from the centre to elderly people who live nearby.
"Delivering food really makes Xenia friends. Many refugees feel like a burden when they only get support. But when they help out themselves, they feel useful and needed," says Veronica.
In the afternoon, Xenia helps Liuba around the house and with the gardening. And every evening they watch TV together while Maxim is busy with his favourite cartoon.
No one knows how long this war will last, but Xenia is grateful and happy to have found a home and a centre that will support her with the necessities until she can return to Odessa. Liuba is also a grateful host: "It is great that Concordia is also there for us, the host families. For me, it's important not to feel alone when helping others in this situation."
Support for refugees and local people
In view of the war in Ukraine, Concordia in Moldova has developed new projects to help refugees from Ukraine. For example, we have already been able to hand over numerous food packages containing around 30 different products for Ukrainian refugees and their host families. Over 8,000 sanitary kits have been distributed throughout the country. Concordia also provided the Moldovan host families with urgently needed firewood to keep their houses warm. In particularly poor areas, shower and laundry services were provided.
At the end of the partly newly asphalted road in the border village of Palanca between Moldova and Ukraine, there is a small tent city that has been set up there for Ukrainians who have fled. It is raining cats and dogs. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the tent is very special. A few people are sitting at tables, eating and talking. At the Concordia stand, there is placinte and coffee today.
Among the volunteers who help here are Ukrainian refugees. Darja and her daughter come from Odessa, they fled to Moldova on the second day of the war. They have been here for days, welcoming new arrivals, distributing food and comforting words. The two women are currently staying at our social centre in Tudora. Every day they hope for an end to the war. They have maintained contact with their neighbours in Odessa. Every day they ask on the phone about the situation at home, whether their house is still standing, whether everyone is still unharmed.
Anna, a volunteer from Austria, is also helping out here. She has been in Tudora since autumn last year and has helped to set up the emergency aid programme. "In the morning, we are usually the first to come to the supply tent and in the evening, the last to leave."
Then suddenly three full buses arrive from Odessa with fleeing women and children. The tent is now bustling with activity, but there is no sign of hectic. Our volunteers are a well-rehearsed team.
Meanwhile, a queue of people is slowly forming in front of the aid transport camp in nearby Tudora. Refugees from Ukraine have been able to register for donations in kind over the past few days via the Moldovan Ministry's website. And today they are ready for collection. Our colleagues in Moldova are prepared, and when the doors to the camp open, everything goes smoothly and quietly. Although it looks like chaos in the warehouse, they keep an overview. Then it's time to distribute the food. The people here are grateful for the support. It is especially nice when little greetings from the donors are discovered among the donations in kind. They wish them "All the best" and "Much strength". Little things like that bring a smile to people's faces.
Give a smile too, donate now for Ukrainian refugees:
How do you celebrate Easter when there is war in your home country? We visited a refugee family in the Concordia house in Bolohani, Moldova.
Three Ukrainian mothers are in the kitchen preparing the traditional salads, eggs are boiling on the cooker, the smell of steamed vegetables and mayonnaise is in the air. Although bombs and rockets are being fired in their homeland, it still feels like a piece of home here.
One of the mothers is called Liuba, she tells us that she will go to church with her children after midnight to get the holy light. The children are experiencing this ritual for the first time. While Liuba prepares everything, she reminisces about her grandmother: "She always cooked an "okroshka" on Easter. It's a cold soup made of kvass (bread drink), meat and vegetables. It tastes sour and bitter at the same time." Listening to Liuba's description, it must have been the best soup in the world. "Afterwards there were always mountains full of food, and that even though my grandma had no water in the house. But the greatest joy for my grandma was that the whole family came together," the mother continues.
Liuba also talks about the small village of Bolohani where they now live and how it has become their home. Above all, she is overwhelmed by the warmth of the Moldovans: "It was not difficult to get used to life here, because we have the same traditions, we all speak the same language and we are open to each other. Honestly, I am amazed at the friendliness of the people. I met two elderly women who will come over for Easter dinner and bring a duck and a chicken. Can you believe it? A woman who didn't know us until a few weeks ago is bringing a duck from her own backyard - she doesn't have a farm, just a few ducks - and she wants to cook one of them for our Easter dinner."
Even holidays have setbacks
While Liuba is in the kitchen, the children are playing in the parlour. A total of seven children between the ages of three and ten have created their own world here, where they take care of each other. What is really surprising is the silence that reigns here, no car noises, no dogs barking, no television, just the voices of the children.
But then the mood changes, something is in the air. Liuba comes into the room and tells the children that a civilian building has been hit back home. Even though the children do not yet fully understand what their mother has said, they repeat her words. This news on a festive day is a setback, Liuba makes sure on the phone that none of her relatives have been hurt.
What the children look forward to most
Then comes the most longed-for moment for the children - sticking the pictures on the Easter eggs. This involves putting stickers on the eggs and dipping them in hot water, which makes the pictures take the shape of the eggs. Even a few Muslim children join in. You can see the pride in the little ones' eyes as they lift their finished creations out of the water.
Despite the pain the mothers carry in their hearts during these difficult times, they show gentleness and love to their children not only on these holidays.
"We only want one thing: to go back home. We very much hope that we will soon be able to return to our old lives in Ukraine. I want to see my relatives again, continue my studies and help rebuild my homeland after the war."
Arina and her family want nothing more. When they talk about relatives and friends, you can see the deep love they have for each other. Although the war drove them out of their home and they could only take a few things with them, they are together and safe, and that gives them support during this difficult time.
Before Arina fled, she lived and studied in Kiev. Together with her family of seven, who lived in Izmail, she made her way to Romania. At first they found shelter with helpful people. But then they heard about the Concordia transit centre in Ploiesti and came to us.
It is a challenging situation for our colleagues in the neighbouring countries of Ukraine. On the one hand, they are happy that we can offer the refugee families a place to sleep, warm meals and the necessary care and a place to catch their breath. On the other hand, it is immensely sad to see how many frightened people have to flee their devastated homes.
At Concordia, we do our best to offer traumatised people from Ukraine a safe place to rest and gather strength. For people like Arina and her family, we need your support.
Their husbands brought them as close to the border as they were allowed. Olea, her 3-month-old baby Liia, her 10-year-old son Marian and her mother Valentina crossed the border on foot. When the officials saw that they had such a small baby with them, they were allowed to pass more quickly. "It was cold and Liia was screaming loudly. We were really lucky that we were allowed to get on the bus first!".
They were taken to Cimisheni, and there they were accommodated with 15 other fugitives in a room that normally serves as a summer camp for young people. For little Liia, it was far too cramped and too much hustle and bustle. Three days later, they contacted Viorica from CONCORDIA Moldova, who organised accommodation for the four of them in our house in Bolohani. There they are accommodated with some other families, but they have their own room and the necessary privacy for the little one. Liia can take her time here to cure her cold, which she probably caught on the run.
Olea is happy that she can still breastfeed her daughter and can gather new strength here to take good care of her baby. When she thinks of Ukraine, her husband, her loved ones who stayed there, she is grateful that Odessa is not yet under attack.
Marian is in 4th grade and attends online classes five days a week. In his free time, he plays with the other children and the dogs that live in the house. Valentina, the grandmother, cooks with the other refugees in the kitchen, they share their thoughts, ideas and fears and also support each other. "Please tell everyone how grateful we are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I don't know what we would have done without the help of your organisations."
New life for an empty house
The house in which the family was accommodated was a family house that was closed down some time ago and was to be sold. With the refugees arriving, the former caretaker Daniela was brought back. She quickly found inexpensive ways to remedy the deficiencies in the house and to make it a home again.
In Moldova, people firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. So the fact that this house has not yet been sold was a sign for the Moldovan colleagues that God wanted to keep it for the Ukrainians.
Animals are also family members that you don't want to leave behind when you flee. But rescue is not always successful. A family from Mykolaiv tells us their story.
Olena, Anna, Antonina, Natalia, Oleg and Vladimir - together with their two cats, Dasha and Masha, they are a large family that had to flee Ukraine. Grandma Olena lived with her children and granddaughter Antonina in the town of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine until their house was destroyed by a shell. Miraculously, the family managed to escape into the open air, but their two beloved dogs were not so lucky; they died in the rubble of their former home.
The two mothers, Olena and Anna, set off with the children and their velvet paws in search of a safe place, full of fear and stress. And now they are with us in Bulgaria, where they have the chance to think in peace about how their lives should continue. They are in constant contact with their husbands who, like so many others, stayed behind in Ukraine. "But we don't know if we will ever see each other again," Anna emphasises with sad eyes.
The kittens, too, must first recover from the shock of the last few days. Therefore, 14-year-old Vladimir takes them for a walk on a leash to be on the safe side, the fear that the two could run away is too great. At the sight of the cute tigers, even our colleagues at Concordia House cannot resist and rush over to pet and feed the two - because pets are also supported as much as possible at Concordia.
Above all, they are grateful for the help
Anna and Olena are incredibly grateful for the many volunteers who supported them during their flight from the war zone. Their way led them first through Moldova, and via Romania to Bulgaria, where they have now arrived at our transit centre.
The family does not yet know what will happen next. It is too early for that - they have only been with us for a few days. Everyone hopes that the war will end soon. But the way back is very unclear for them - because they no longer have a home to return to.
You too can help
Besides Moldova and Romania, we also take care of Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria. Most of them stay only a few days and then travel on to relatives in various European countries. At Concordia they receive accommodation, warm food, clothing, psychological support, first aid and accompaniment to institutions. All services are based on the individual needs of the people who seek help from us.
"We left because we heard the sirens night after night. And every time my children woke up and cried.... At some point we could already see the warships with binoculars, and we thought that if they were heading for our village, our village wouldn't be around for long."
Alexandra* has three young children - Pavel* (4 years old), Ania* (3 years old) and Olena* (1.5 years old) - and decided to leave Ukraine with them shortly after the war began. Her parents stayed behind in Odessa and her husband enlisted in the army. At the beginning of March, she found someone to take her to the Moldovan border in Palanca.
About five kilometres before the border, the children could no longer stand it in the car, and despite the cold and drizzle, they continued on foot. Their mother and her husband still accompanied them, but then it was time to say goodbye - a tearful goodbye when you don't know when you will see each other again.
How they found their way to Concordia
Despite the difficult situation, Alexandra seems cheerful and calm today. While her daughter is playing, her sons keep coming over and asking countless questions and talking about themselves. Pavel wants to be a photographer or doctor when he grows up, he says confidently, while his mother emphasises how proud she is of him.
Before she came to Concordia, she didn't know where to go. "A man approached me and offered to take us anywhere, but I don't know anyone here and I didn't know where to go. He told me not to worry and looked for a solution in the Moldovan Facebook groups. Then a woman wanted to take us in, but I would have had to pay for the utilities and food and I can't afford that. I only get 25 euros a month in allowance for my youngest daughter, so we can't get far on that."
Finally, her helper found Concordia and told Alexandra that there was a shelter where everything was covered. She couldn't believe it at first. When she arrived at our house at around 2:00 a.m. that night, she was exhausted but full of hope. The next day she met our team. Besides a room, she gets everything a home can offer - warm meals, clothes, support, care and even a bit of joy. She and her children have been living with us for three weeks now, and the little ones have already made friends with whom they play and go to kindergarten together.
Finally, Alexandra reveals what she is most happy about: "In the last seven days, my little girl hasn't woken up crying in the middle of the night and my son doesn't get scared when he hears sirens anymore." It's nice to hear that the four of them have been able to come here to rest and find a little bit of peace.
*all names have been changed
A short while ago, this talented young woman made a stopover with us. Sofia had to leave behind her beloved piano and the life she had built for herself in Ukraine. The passionate pianist has already participated in many competitions there and has a great career ahead of her.
A few days ago, she and her mother came to our centre in Romania. Here she was able to get some rest, eat something and reorganise her thoughts. But when she discovered our piano, she couldn't resist playing for the staff and the residents. In the few hours she was with us, she helped where she could, packed donations and talked a lot with other Ukrainians.
We would like to thank her for the wonderful music and also for her courage. Because it is scary when you are forced to give up your whole life and start over somewhere else. Sofia has shown us what it means not to let it get you down. Together with her mother, she is now on her way to Germany.
Concordia has turned some Romanian social housing into transit centres for Ukrainians who need a warm place, a meal and care until they decide what to do next. Ukrainian refugees arriving in Romania are welcomed with dignity and warmth. We want to give them the tools they need to take a breath, make new plans or reunite with their families.
On Saturday, Bernhard Drumel and Ulla Konrad visit our crisis centre in Cosauti, in the north of Moldova, right on the Ukrainian border.
Nina, our long-time director, tells us about the sirens that can be heard almost continuously during the night. Although there is no fighting nearby (yet), there still seems to be a constant alarm throughout the whole rayon - perhaps because the sirens are switched through. For children and adults living in the Concordia Centre there, this is a particular strain. No one can sleep through the night, it is simply too loud for that. A sleeping terror without a concrete fight - also a phenomenon of this dire situation.
Airlift to Austria planned
During the day and in the evenings, we coordinate with partners, especially the Austrian Embassy, Kindernothilfe, Don Bosco, Caritas, DonauSoja and the International Red Cross. Now the aim is to coordinate even more in order to support the people in this humanitarian emergency in the best possible way. Soon there will also be an airlift for refugees to Austria, where Concordia will mediate effectively.
We can just draw on our long experience in this country. We have been helping the most vulnerable here since 2004, in 50 different places, all over the country.
We have used these days with Concordia Moldova's National Directors, Tatiana Balta and Viorica Matas, to position ourselves well for the coming weeks and months. For the mothers and children from Ukraine, for the support of those people in our priority regions who help concretely, although they do not have much themselves, and of course for the children, young people, families and old people whom we care for permanently. With inflation at 27% and food and gas prices rising enormously, it is precisely the poorest who will urgently need our help.
Managing Director Bernhard Drumel and Chief Executive Officer Ulla Konrad report on their diverse encounters and how Concordia effectively supports people on the run in addition to its ongoing programme in Moldova.
In Tudora, near our centre, two women who met here live with a total of three children. They stay with us because their husbands are still in Odessa. One of them is an entrepreneur, she offers to make herself 'useful'. Many people are running out of money right now. In the next few days, we will give her opportunities to support other Ukrainian mothers, especially those who are just arriving. And in doing so, support them financially as well. As well as other mothers who want to become active while they are holding out here.
As we stand in front of the house, an older man comes by, a neighbour, his name is Igor. He tells us that he originally comes from Russia, then worked in Odessa, and has now been living here for many years. He asks if the mothers with the children are safe. We can reassure him. For a few days now, he has been supplying the women with wood, which is currently in short supply. To give something back, as he says....
An empty house as shelter for Ukrainian families
The next day we drive to Bolohani, an hour north of Chisinau. A dreamy village, where we can provide an empty large house for up to 20 people. Four families live here, from Odessa and Kiev, some have been here for weeks, others have just arrived. Here, too, the men are still at home, two on standby, two ready to fight. They all want to stay with us for now, they don't know where else to go.
Three-month-old Tatiana immediately makes contact with us, and after a while so does four-year-old Vadim, who first hid between the grandparents. His mother tells us that the children played war for the first three days. It was their way of coming to terms with what they had experienced.
The situation in Transnistria is calm at the moment, in Odessa they have prepared for an attack, the harbour is mined, the tank barriers are set up. 14 Russian ships are cruising on rough seas in the Black Sea. If Odessa is attacked, it is estimated that an additional 200,000 people will flee from Ukraine to Moldova within a very short time.
Bernhard Drumel, Concordia Managing Director, and Ulla Konrad, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, go to Moldova, where they drive directly to the Moldovan-Ukrainian border to Tudora and Palanca. There they visit Veronica, the manager of the multifunctional centre.
Veronica is one of our "women of the hour" and the lynchpin in the refugee coordination in Tudora and Palanca. "Whoever comes across the border is allowed to come to us," she tells us. "That also happens several times a day. I see us here as an information centre, reception centre, coordination centre and also as those who can find and offer local solutions. No matter if temporary or longer-term. Medical care was a big problem until a few days ago. Then, together with other organisations and the mayors I called, we made a house available.
In our centre in Tudora, there are always Ukrainian children with their mothers in the morning. The children play or even take part in online classes from here. The mothers get psycho-social care. In the afternoon, the Moldovan children also come to the day centre and play together with the refugee children. "For our Moldovan children, the programme must continue as normally as possible. Just like for our elderly people. That is very important to us," emphasises Veronica.
Veronica, with her network of mayors spread across the Ștefan Vodă rayon, has already accommodated around 1,000 refugees. In the entire rayon, one of the poorest in the Republic of Moldova, there are currently around 2,000 refugees. Many of them are housed privately, where people who already have little are moving together to make room for Ukrainians.
The willingness to help is overwhelming, but in the long run financial support is needed.
We also learn that many neighbours are extremely helpful people. But in the long run they will reach their limits - especially as far as finances are concerned: "Petrol is getting more and more expensive and I often need driving services. No one says no yet. Wood is also needed, lots of wood. For heating, for cooking. But wood is also very expensive."
Everything is done free of charge at the moment. "That has to change soon," says Veronica. "We can't always just ask people for favours." Concordia is currently preparing effective material support for this so-called 'host community' so that it can count on their willingness to help for longer.
We help and we stay!
Tudora and the Ștefan Vodă Rajon will continue to be our most important area of operation in the refugee crisis. Concordia has been working here for many years, and deep trust has been built up here, especially through people like Veronica. We can build on this to be able to help effectively.
And the people here know: Concordia will be there for them even after this crisis. The door in our centre in Tudora is always open for people in need.
Concordia Managing Director Bernhard Drumel and Chairperson of the Board Ulla Konrad report on their trip to Bucharest, Romania, where they visited the Concordia transit centre for Ukrainian refugees:
Concordia House Iuda has always been a very lively house and has a long and varied history. In addition to social housing, our Concordia Academia is currently active there. And now, in these few weeks, Casa Iuda has transformed into something brand new.
Stefania and her team have created 46 sleeping spaces for refugees in a very short time, and they keep filling them up. The house has now also become a transit centre and thus a lively meeting place for people who are passing through. A sporadic "shop for everything" with donations in kind, clothes, hygiene products etc. has been set up in the corridor.
Stefania's team is mainly made up of young volunteers - residents of the social housing that is also there. They work outside of Concordia, "but they help out in every free minute. Two have even taken extra leave now. Now that we have so much to do," says Stefania and never tires of praising her helpers.
On site, we take the opportunity to talk to the refugee guests. A translator, who is also a psychologist, helps us. She is originally from Russia, she says at the beginning, a little embarrassed, as if she had to apologise for that right away. Yet it also makes this place a small bridge-builder of people from both countries who want the same thing - to live together peacefully.
At first, we only sit together in a small group, but over time we become more and more. In the end, almost 20 people share their stories with us.
We meet a mother with three children and grandparents. She was on a training course in Copenhagen when the war broke out, her children with their parents. The mother then quickly returned to Ukraine, picked up her children and parents and now they are on their way "to Europe". She wants to go to Copenhagen with her children, the grandparents to Germany. In the course of the conversation it comes out that they have ancestors in Austria... maybe Austria would also be an option.
A second woman arrived with her daughter only this morning. Their experience of flight from Odessa is still very present. During the conversation, tears flow down the mother's face again and again.
A young teacher has been here with her mother for a few days. The mother begins her story with a question to us: "Tell me, where did you get these people who work for you? Where does this high level of commitment, care and attention come from?
Most of our guests are women with children. But there are also men. One is on his way to Finland with his impaired child. Two others - aged 23 and 39 - are going 'against the tide'. They are still waiting for a third friend and then want to go to Odessa together to 'defend their country'. At this point, the group becomes quiet, the mood trepidatious. 'It has to be done', the determination of the two young men does not tolerate any contradiction, not even within themselves.
At the end of the conversation, everyone wants to know more about Concordia. "Who is this organisation that has welcomed us so warmly and cordially?" Elena tells them about us. And laughs: "The Concordia Spirit will be carried all over Europe with these people and their stories. It's a beneficial drop of humanity in this madness."
Since the beginning of the war, Concordia has been able to set up seven emergency shelters in Moldova as a refuge for refugees. Some families stay only one night before moving on to Poland or Germany. But many also stay here, wanting to wait until the war is over and not go too far from home. One such family is Tina's.
"We were welcomed with open arms"
Tina fled to us at the beginning of March with her mother and her three youngest children - Valeriia, Oleksandr and Veronika, aged 2, 4 and 8. Her two adult sons (aged 19 and 23) stayed in Odessa.
Tina hopes they can return home soon and does not want to move to another country like other families: "At Concordia we feel welcome. The Moldovans have welcomed us with open arms. As long as it is OK, we want to stay here until we can return home, to Odessa. I am so worried about my sons, I can't wait to see them again."
"He went to work and never came back home"
Inesa feels the same way, she remembers the first night of the war as if it was hours ago: "I turned on the TV and when I saw Putin's speech I knew the war was starting. My husband put on his coat and went to work without question or hesitation, because that's what the army is for - to defend the country. He went to work and didn't come home again." Shortly after, the explosions began.
An emergency kit was ready, so Inesa woke up her 6-year-old daughter Karina and decided to tell her the truth, that Russia was attacking Ukraine and they would have to flee. Inesa tried to reassure her daughter, to keep her courage up and said that everything would be fine. But then Karina asked, "Mama, won't they kill Papa?". "Papa will find peace in his heart when we are both safe," Inesa answered sadly. And so they set off for Moldova to one of our Concordia homes.
Currently, many Ukrainian families are finding refuge in our emergency shelters in Moldova. Concordia provides food parcels, nappies, toiletries, bedding, towels, clothes and shoes and everything needed to keep families like Tina and Inesa's well. We distribute donations every week and face daily challenges such as finding firewood for the houses.
UKRAINE EMERGENCY AID Donate now.
Moldova, a state of about two and a half million people, is Ukraine's smallest and economically weakest neighbour, but has taken in more refugees from Ukraine than any other state in terms of its own population, according to UNHCR.
"We could hear the gunshots and impacts outside when I opened the windows of the house. When you hear the sounds of war so close, your fear grows and at some point you have to decide to leave...", Olga, who lived in Odessa until recently, tells us with tears in her eyes.
More and more Ukrainians are fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Olga and her 5-year-old son Vladimir. They recently arrived in the Romanian Concordia Edu-Campus Ploiesti, where they can take a short breath after their escape from Ukraine before they continue their journey to Germany. The sleep they have been able to catch up on over the last two nights is doing them good. Before that, their first route took them to Chisinau in Moldova, from where they wanted to fly on to Germany. But the airspace over Moldova is closed and so they decided to take the train to Bucharest and continue their journey from there.
Another option for Olga and Vladimir would have been to go to her aunt in Canada, but the thought of being so far away from home and the family they left behind was too painful for Olga - and the hope of returning home soon too great.
Before she had to leave home in a hurry, Olga worked in the administration of the University of Odessa. She lived with her son and brother with her parents, two doctors who stayed behind in the war zone to do their best day and night in the hospital. Olga, too, would have preferred to stay at home, but as the dangerous gunfire came closer and closer, she packed Vladimir and the most necessary things and left for Moldova.
Fatigue, sadness and fear can be seen on Olga's face. Fear of what will happen to her and her son, fear for her parents and her brother who has gone to serve his country, a country where they all want to see each other again soon.
Vladimir doesn't yet understand what's going on, why they left Grandma and Grandpa. Olga hasn't told him much about the war yet, only that they have to go on a trip. Maybe she will tell him more when they have settled down somewhere and come to rest. But how much can a 5-year-old boy understand and bear?
We are glad we could help them catch their breath, eat well and rest for a while. In all the sadness of losing her life and saying goodbye to her family, Olga still finds the strength to smile. Vladimir also experiences a little joy at the Concordia facility: he has found new and playmates at the playground we organised for the refugee children.
We hope that Olga and Vladimir will soon settle down in Germany. That everything will be arranged as well as possible for them in the place where they will stay for a while. Short or long. Who knows when the war will end?
Our project country Romania also borders directly on Ukraine. Here, too, dramatic situations take place at border crossings, train stations and airports. People who arrive completely exhausted, don't know where to go, simply collapse.
This was the case with Karina* (19), Tamara (22) and their mother Katia (45). They arrived at the Concordia transit centre in Bucharest on International Women's Day. Only a few days ago, they were running a small café in their house in Nikolayev in the south of Ukraine. But then they had to flee from the war and now nothing is the same there anymore. The Concordia transit centre is a stopover for the three of them to catch their breath before they continue their journey to relatives in Georgia.
The three do not yet know what they will do in Georgia, but they know that at least they will be safe. They also feel safe at the Concordia Centre, where they have a room with three beds, clean sheets, hot meals and hot water for washing for a few days.
Especially women and children are crossing the border into Moldova these days in search of protection. In the Moldovan village of Ruseștii Noi, in one of our shelter centres, they are safe.
Vera*, her husband and their two sons were living on the 7th floor of a building near Odessa airport when they saw the rockets flying across the sky.
"Even though the explosion was 50 km away, you could feel the impact and the jolt immediately. It was horrific. From then on you live in fear, constantly hearing drones, sirens, gunshots. You put on the kids and go to the basement in counted seconds, you sleep in the hallway to keep your family safe, and you feel your nerves can't take it anymore. You look on the internet and see that your acquaintances in Herson (a town in the south of Ukraine) are even worse off, you see how they survive in these conditions, and you understand that you are doing well compared to them... while it is already hell for you."
Andrei*, their 3-year-old son, thought it was a firework, while Yuri* (15 years old) was shocked, cried and asked them to pack everything and flee to another country. After a week of hoping and fearing, Vera packed a backpack and her children to take them to safety in Moldova. Her husband stayed in Ukraine, as did many others. The saddest thing is that little Andrei still does not understand where his father is. Until yesterday, he was putting him to sleep every night, and now he is gone.
When they arrived at the border, Vera and the children were received by our colleagues from Concordia Moldova and taken into accommodation: in our temporary accommodation centre in Ruseștii Noi, where we take care of children and young people who cannot live with their parents, one floor was made available to accommodate refugee mothers and their children. They can stay there for the time being.
Vera is currently one of five mothers. They support each other and their children play together. For the moment, they are safe. *Names changed.
While the Moldovan government is asking for admission to the European Union, thousands of Ukrainian refugees continue to stream across the border near Palanca every day, where our colleagues have been working for days. The hub of first aid for Ukrainian refugees is the Concordia Multifunctional Centre in the small village of Tudora.
The nearest village to the Palanca border crossing is called Tudora. It is the place where Concordia has been supporting the impoverished rural population for many years. The houses in Tudora are half-ruined and often abandoned, the living conditions of those left behind alarming. Very few have running water. Those who live here are mainly old people with children whose parents have gone abroad to secure at least the minimum for the family.
And now suddenly there is a lot going on in Tudora: and the only social institution in the village - our multi-functional centre, has also become a supply centre for the many desperate Ukrainian refugees. Many of them had to hold out for many hours in the cold at the border.
"There are no benches, no chairs. The authorities have promised to build a covered tunnel to protect them from rain and snow, but this has not happened yet. Many refugees have no hats, no gloves and are freezing while they wait for their turn. The least we can do is give them something warm," says Veronica, the manager of the Concordia Multifunctional Centre in Tudora.
At the moment, all the villagers and all the volunteers are involved in helping through our centre in Tudora. Everyone who can, in some way, is helping. "We are helping with everything we have, but soon we will have nothing left. Today, every house in Tudora is full." - Veronica adds, expressing not only the great prevailing willingness to help, but also the concerns of the people in Moldova: "People are worried, but we advise them not to believe everything they hear. The whole village is afraid that war will break out on us so close to the border."
Currently, we have already accommodated over 120 Ukrainian refugees in Concordia houses in the Republic of Moldova.
Day 6 of the Ukraine war: People cross the Moldovan border near Palanca after hours of waiting.
Concordia Ukraine emergency aid in the Republic of Moldova
- at the borders, accepting and distributing relief items such as food, documents, etc.
- in the organisation of initial refugee reception centres
- delivery of food to border personnel
- transporting people from customs to Chisinau
- placement and organisation of volunteers
- newly created accommodation in now vacant buildings, as we quickly moved our children and young people to the capital: Tudora, Bolohani, Nemteni, Rusestii Noi, Stauceni + Riscani.
According to the Moldovan Interior Ministry, a total of 87,257 Ukrainians have fled to Moldova across the borders in Palanca, Tudora, Otaci and Criva in the past week. Half of them have moved on towards the west. The other half is seeking shelter in the Republic of Moldova for the time being, processing the shock of the last few days. Many are very worried about their relatives. Mostly elderly people, women and children have come. Their sons, husbands and fathers, however, have remained in the country to defend Ukraine.
In Moldova, our colleagues on the ground are working around the clock to create places to stay, to equip empty houses and rooms with the most basic necessities: Water, electricity, gas, internet, beds, furniture. The willingness to help in the country is great. The mobile phones of our Moldovan colleagues are currently running hot: many volunteers are coming forward to help with the initial care of the arrivals.
"You can hear the war in the neighbouring country all over Moldova. The fear of being occupied by Russia itself is omnipresent." - reports our Executive Director Bernhard Drumel, who is on site these days.
Ludmila, our colleague from the village of Coșnița, on the Transnistrian border, who is currently looking after seven children between the ages of 3 and 16 with her team, says that she would like to have all the children's passports with her at all times so that she can leave with them as quickly as possible if it becomes unsafe. She already has water stored in the cellar, as well as food. She would go to bed dressed every night so that she would be ready to leave as soon as possible. But without the children? No, she won't go without the children.
We are very grateful for our Moldovan colleagues who, in this chaotic and tense situation and despite their own fears, remain calm, give the children and families in our facilities stability and, as far as possible, safe daily routines and a sense of security.
"We heard rockets directly from our neighbouring village. And we knew there were no air raid shelters nearby. Who would have thought we would ever need air raid shelters?"
Less than a week ago, Ekaterina and her family were living in Podgorie, a small Ukrainian village in the Odessa region. Now they are in Moldova for the first time, on the safe side of the border. But Ekaterina's husband is still in Ukraine.
She, her two children and her mother-in-law went by bus to the border and then on foot. After these terrible days and hours, they are now safe in one of our shelters.
What no one wanted to believe a few days ago has unfortunately come true: the Russian military has now reached the Ukrainian capital Kiev. People are hiding at home, in basements and metro stations; many are trying to flee across the country's borders. To date, more than 26,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the Republic of Moldova. It is estimated that close to 70,000 people will cross the Moldovan border from Ukraine.
The Republic of Moldova and its government are showing solidarity with Ukraine - a crisis team met yesterday on reception and humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees - but at the same time people in the country are increasingly worried about their own security. The Republic of Moldova is, along with Kosovo, the poorest country in Europe and is itself dependent on support from abroad.
When asked by Moldovan television how long the Republic of Moldova could hold out against Russia, Moldovan President Maia Sandu demonstratively looked at her watch and said, "I think we could manage 15 minutes".
As the country's largest NGO, Concordia takes its responsibility in the Ukraine crisis very seriously. Concordia Moldova has been part of the national crisis team on the Ukraine crisis since yesterday, 25 February, and offers direct assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Concordia staff and many volunteers are helping to distribute aid and shelter refugees; providing transport services from the border to the Moldovan capital Chișinău; and feeding border personnel.
Concordia Social Projects has spread its social centres in over 60 municipalities throughout Moldova. Five of their social centres border directly on the Ukrainian-Transnistrian border. For days now, gunshots have been heard in the air from there. As a precautionary measure, children living there for whom Concordia has custody were taken to temporary accommodation in Chișinău. In the now empty facilities, a total of 60 sleeping places for refugees could be provided as a first step. Many more people are being provided with food and water by Concordia staff on site.
A particular challenge is the electricity and gas supply in the facilities near the Transnistrian border: the supply, which takes place via Transnistria, is repeatedly interrupted. At the moment, the outages can still be bridged with generators that were procured in advance.
We urgently ask for financial support for the people from Ukraine seeking help!
UKRAINE EMERGENCY AID Donate now.