Women and War: thousands of Ukrainian women flee their country and have no clear destination

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are leaving their homes as the threat of the Russian invasion turned into a full-fledged war on the morning of 24 February. The EU funded “EVA Project – Strengthened gender action in Cahul and Ungheni districts” along with local public authorities from Cahul, volunteers, and civil society in that region mobilised to offer help, to guide and to host them.

A family from Odessa, fleeing the war in Ukraine, goes towards Galați bordercrossing point in order to reach Romania. Photo: UN Women Moldova

As soon as the war started in Ukraine, the local public authorities of Cahul created a Crisis Unit under Cahul Mayoralty, working around the clock. This is where humanitarian aid and donations – from both economic operators and individuals – are stored and distributed. They also provide blankets, tins, hygiene products, as well as information about food for refugees and ways to be tested for COVID-19 and get vaccinated upon request.

According to the local public authorities of Cahul, besides the Crisis Unit, they arranged temporary placement centres for Ukrainian refugees, which currently accommodate over 100 people: dormitory of ‘B.P. Hasdeu’ State University, ‘Nufărul Alb’ sanatorium, and the Maternal Centre from Cahul. Many refugees benefit from the generosity of local inhabitants and are given shelter by people from rural areas of the district.

Tatiana Romaniuc, deputy mayor of Cahul municipality talking about the response of local authorities to the refugee crisis in Cahul region. Photo: UN Women Moldova

Many people provide help immediately. They respond on the internet, they mobilise themselves, they offer accommodation, transport, clothes, food, health care or translation services. Some refugees, who decide to stay here for a longer term, ask to become volunteers and help their co-nationals, while other view the Republic of Moldova as a prospect for their future.

A significant share of refugees reach the Republic of Moldova by crossing Giurgiulești – Reni border-crossing point. Around 10,000 people cross the border daily, entering Moldova. Border Police officers lead refugees to an improvised tent zone where they are offered tea or coffee. From there, most of them, mothers and children, walk on foot around two kilometres to Galați Customs, at the border with Romania. Volunteers organise transport especially for mothers with small children.

Irina taught at the Waldorf School in Odessa and now she was forced to leave the town. She is frozen but she is hardly convinced to take a break. She is concerned to get to a warm and safe place before the evening comes.

“We will see where we get. We could go to France or Switzerland. There is a community of teachers that invited us. We haven’t decided yet which way to go. It’s important that we reach the Galați Customs. Maybe we will go to Switzerland. We have a school community there, friends, and we will see how things work out,”

confessed Irina.

Galina, aged 40, was among those who queued up for kilometres to travel from Ukraine to Moldova, escaping from Ismail, a town from Odessa Region (south-western Ukraine). Ismail, a town located 192 km south-west of Odessa and 80 km from the place where Chilia branch of Danube enters the Black Sea, was the Soviet Union’s largest port on the Danube.

Galina, 40 years old, from Ismail, is crossing the border in Reni in the company of her two sons. They are fleeing the war in Ukraine. Photo: UN Women Moldova

“I feel lost. Everybody is running. It was so hard to make this decision. I had no choice. I must take care of my boys. My husband stayed to fight. I decided to leave while my eyes were welling up with tears. Everything I wish is for the war to end and for us to go back home. My life’s work is back in Ismail. My home, my household – everything is back there. Lately the air-raid sirens went off more and more often, and then I used to hear all kinds of sounds coming from the sea and I could not stay calm. We fear for our lives. We see what happens in Kiev, Mykolaiv or Harkiv,”

shared Galina.

Galina does not know which way to go, but she would like to get to Galați border-crossing point. In Romania, she will make a faster decision. The refugee inflow increases. Many of them come with friends, relatives, or pets. Aliona is 33 years old and fled from Odessa with her three children.

Aliona, 33 years old, from Odessa, fleeing the war in Ukraine together with her three children. She crosses the border in Reni Customs on foot. Photo: UN Women Moldova

“We used to hear bombs every day in Odessa. People are dying, do you see what’s happening? Life doesn’t matter anymore; it is worth nothing. Both military and civilians are shot. Innocent mothers and children are dying. It is horrible and terrifying. I have so many friends in Harkiv, but they cannot leave even if they wanted to. It is impossible to get out. That’s not because of the lack of a green corridor, but because they are bombed all the time and it is very dangerous,”

said Aliona.

Aliona does not have a clear destination either: “

The sirens we hear every day are frightening. We stayed in the basement for a couple of days, but we couldn’t take it anymore. My husband decided to stay and to fight for our home. I hope I will get to Bulgaria. I have an aunt there. We wrote each other a little during this time, but nothing is clear. It is important that I get there. I speak Bulgarian and even if my aunt doesn’t help me, I hope I will find a job there.”