Kindernothilfe had not previously been represented in the Republic of Moldova. But after the outbreak of war in Ukraine and in view of the plight of the refugees seeking help in the already poor neighbouring country, we too became active. In the organization CONCORDIA, we found a strong partner that has been working on the ground for years. At the beginning of April Press Officer Katharina Wagner from the Austria branch of the organization visited a project in Tudora that we support.
Text: Katharina Wagner, CONCORDIA Social Projects, Photos: Benjamin Kaufmann for CONCORDIA Social Projects
Since the beginning of the war, thousands of people have been fleeing across the small border crossing in Palanca to Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe. Tudora, a village less than ten kilometres away, becomes the first glimmer of hope for them. In the CONCORDIA centre, employees from Moldova and many volunteers from the population welcome them. After waiting, often for hours, they arrive here completely hypothermic and exhausted and are first provided with hot tea and a warm meal. The helpers arrange accommodations for those who want to stay, they organize trips to the capital Chișinău or wherever else for the others who want to leave. They also get in the car themselves and take the traumatized people to the next stop on their flight.
Meanwhile, almost 440,000 (as of April 26) have arrived in Moldova. About a quarter of them have stayed here because they say, "We don't want to go further away from the border region, we want to go back as soon as it's all over!" Odessa, Mariupul, Mykolayiv, these are the names of their hometowns, and that is where they want to go again.
The linchpin of refugee assistance in the village is my colleague Veronika Mocan, the head of our centre in Tudora. Well-connected and well-known throughout the village, she was already before the outbreak of the war, but now there are always calls from people who need help. Especially in the first weeks, when so many refugees arrived, she was the one who coordinated the work in the best possible way. "I was able to place many Ukrainian families with 28 host families," she says. "The willingness to help is great for such a small village. Both the host families and those who have been taken in, receive support from our centre. Four mothers and their children live in the CONCORDIA house for refugees. Our employees visit them and the families regularly and drop off food, hygiene items and whatever else they need."
Many villages in Moldova - like Tudora - present a sad picture. Most houses are empty, and the majority of the working generation has moved away out of poverty and lack of prospects. Around one third of Moldovans work abroad. The elderly are left behind in modest dwellings, sometimes even leaving their grandchildren with them. As they grow older, many are overwhelmed by the task of caring for the little ones. Financially, they often lack the simplest things, such as wood for heating.
As the largest aid organization in the country, CONCORDIA operates projects in more than 50 communities throughout Moldova. And as in Tudora, they are often the social meeting point in a village. The project in Tudora exists since 2008. It is a social and learning centre for the children and at the same time a care centre for the elderly - and thus unites the old and the young under one roof, making it a multifunctional project, so to speak. 14 senior citizens currently live here. In the afternoons, children from poor families come here, bringing life to the centre, which everyone is happy about. They receive a hot meal and can learn here. In addition, employees of the centre deliver the daily lunch, often the only real meal, to elderly people and families who are not mobile and depend on assistance. This is the work of the centre on normal days. Now, help for people from Ukraine is added to this.
When I was in the centre in Tudora for several hours this week, I met Yana and Fedor. Yana (5) fled Odessa with her mother and both siblings. She loves to dance and move. The family lives in the CONCORDIA house for refugees, together with three other Ukrainian women and their children. The house is a ten-minute walk from the multifunctional centre. Mothers and children are welcome there and enjoy spending a lot of time there.
A very special friendship has developed between an elderly resident, "Uncle" Fedor", and Yana. Yana curves around the house with the senior citizen, who is in a wheelchair, and in between she paints him at least three pictures every day. Like most people in this region, Fedor speaks Russian, which is why the two can communicate. "I'm glad there are so many children here," he says. "Through them, I have found my zest for life again." His children and grandchildren all live abroad, and he is alone here in Tudora. Fedor enjoys playing and laughing with children. He is a fun-loving person when girls and boys are around him.
"In the past weeks, we were in a kind of state of emergency," report my colleagues on site, "but now more routine is returning. The overload caused by the new situation took a lot of energy, but in the meantime everything has taken its course and we have time to make plans for the medium-term future. But the phones are still ringing off the hook ..." Our leaders for Moldova, Tatiana Balta and Viorica Matas, are constantly receiving requests from other international organizations with experience in disaster relief, as many of the organizations have never worked in Moldova and therefore lack the infrastructure and contact persons.
Just like our employees, other relief organizations are also preparing for a possible second major onslaught on the border. As soon as Odessa and surrounding regions are attacked, thousands will again try to cross the small border crossing in Palanca. They, too, must be helped as quickly as possible.
In Moldova, the fear that the war would spill over into the country was initially very great. The sirens were running hot, and there was no night to rest. How can one explain this situation to young people in a way that is appropriate for children - both the local and the refugee girls and boys from Ukraine? How much of the truth be conveyed to them at all? In the meantime, we have used funds from Kindernothilfe to conduct a workshop on working with traumatized children, many more training sessions for mothers, children and our local staff are planned. These will focus on trauma, child trafficking and child protection. CONCORDIA is currently in the process of setting up its own department with psychosocial professionals. Kindernothilfe's expertise in this area will certainly help us a great deal.