According to estimates by the Moldovan government, by the end of March 400,000 people had already fled to Moldova; most of them have moved on, while around 100,000 have stayed. That's a lot for a country that is home to just over 2.6 million people and is considered the poorest country in Europe, with 12 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
Many refugees who remain in the country know someone or have family in Moldova, like 37-year-old Anzhela Skurelnik, who fled with her three children from a village near the port city of Odessa to join 70-year-old mother Sina. The latter lives with Anzhela's older sister in a house in Causeni, a small Moldovan town about 70 kilometers from the border. Anzhela's husband, a Ukrainian, stayed behind. Before the war, the family sold agricultural products. Now he protects what the family needs for self-sufficiency.
At the moment, the three women and the three children live on their mother's pension of about $100 a month. That doesn't go far, even in Moldova. Anzhela brought some saved Ukrainian currency, hryvnia, with her, but she will receive nothing in return in Moldova: the hryvnia has dramatically lost value since the outbreak of the war. Thanks to donations from Switzerland and together with the UN World Food Program (WFP) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Helvetas supports Moldovan host families with a financial grant that allows them to make small repairs, pay water and electricity bills or simply buy food. Anzhela's mother is very happy about the $190 she received. Her daughter and grandchildren also need lighter clothes, because they fled shortly after the outbreak of the war when it was still winter in Odessa.
When the first war-displaced people crossed the Moldovan border, Helvetas quickly organized transport to the capital, Chisinau, distributed SIM cards and installed charging stations for cell phones. Right from the start, it was important to provide care for particularly vulnerable people. As a next step, Helvetas is now planning to integrate Ukrainian refugees into the Moldovan labor market. Experts are currently analyzing supply and demand and considering how Moldovan companies can be strengthened to create new jobs.
In Ukraine itself, Helvetas, together with its partner organizations Acted and People In Need, and with the help of Swiss Solidarity, provides internally displaced persons with cash so that they can support themselves. Local restaurants are receiving financial aid so that they can cater for internally displaced persons, in order to also support the local hospitality industry.
At the time of publication, the war in Ukraine continues. In Moldova, fears are high that the conflict could spill over into their territory as well.