Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
After more than a year, Ukrainian refugees continue to find their way in neighboring Romania.
Almost 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, entered Romania in the first year following the Russian invasion in February 2022. Many of those moved through Romania en route to other countries, but many thousand have remained, with the assistance of family, government, and humanitarian agencies.
AIDRom - a Week of Compassion partner through ACT Alliance - recently shared a conversation with Marina, a mother of two and refugee in Romania since the beginning of the war.
On the first day, when the war started, she thought, "It's all a joke." She took the children to school, she went to work, their usual schedule. Her husband was out of the country and called her in the evening, telling her to tape the windows, so that in case of bombings, shrapnel wouldn't fly in and hurt them. Still thinking it unnecessary, she did as her husband suggested. The next day, she went to the market, but saw that a lot of people were leaving the city. "The streets were crowded with cars loaded with luggage... Then I said: I think we'll have to leave too."
But she was not yet convinced to take this step and leave an entire life behind. On the way home, she was informed that her uncle, a soldier in Mariupol, had been killed. It was a decisive moment. When she got home, she spoke with a relative from Romania who told her: "Get out of the country now so it doesn't happen like in Syria, that in 3 days everything will be closed and you won't be able to take the children out of the country." This relative arranged for her to leave the country early the next morning, going by car to a bus heading to Romania.
So, on the third day of the war, Marina, together with the two children, carrying only a few clothes and some documents, left their house. "I closed the door, I fed the chickens, I fed the dog. I left them food because it seemed to me that I was leaving for two days and after two days everything ends and we return... I didn't know where I was going, I didn't know what I was going to do. I arrived in Romania at night with 115 lei [about $25] for 4 people..."
That was more than a year ago.
Marina left her home in Odessa and now lives, works, and thinks about the future in Bucharest. She considers herself very lucky that she lives with her family there (her husband met up with them), that she has a job, and that the children go to school. But she knows hundreds of stories of refugees who didn't manage to adapt as well.
The challenge of creating home in a new land is made even more complicated by rules and regulations that shift over time. As the war drags on, and temporary situations begin to look long-term and even permanent, government agencies, humanitarian aid networks, and communities made up of both citizens and refugees, all have to sort out what ‘living here’ really means.
In Romania, the new context for Ukraine refugee and resettlement response includes new rules for housing allowances and food assistance, both in frequency and eligibility requirements. Recipients must prove that they are attending Romanian (language) classes, looking for work, and that children are in Romanian school (as opposed to attending their Ukrainian schools online).
AIDRom is working to help families adjust to these new realities, amid fears of losing their own culture, resistant to efforts at ‘accommodation’ because they still expect to go home ‘when the war is over’. For them it is a question of integrity and identity: Families seeking refuge whether temporary-while-long-term, or resettling for the future, carry a deep fear of being assimilated, their own culture erased, instead of being welcomed and integrated, where their heritage and culture still has a place.
More than 5000 Ukrainians have applied for asylum, determining they will make this nation their new home; this process also has new rules, and different rights and obligations. There is a great need for legal support, which AIDRom helps provide: many still don’t have paperwork or identification, which means they cannot establish a Romanian bank account - an account which they must have under new rules, as government assistance is now directly deposited, not given in cash. Many older residents have never had bank accounts and need assistance not only with the paperwork to get them started, but even understanding the basics of transactions.
Approximately 130,000 Ukrainians remain in Romania; of the 3.5million went through Romania to other countries, many are coming back from western Europe, where they’ve found the same
requirements for social integration, but a higher cost of living. According to data provided by the Border Police, authorities continue to process up to 8,500 people per day.
AidROM continues to fund Romanian classes, spiritual support, physical aid (food, housing, clothing), medical care, educational support, and counseling. Week of Compassion remains in conversation with ACT Alliance partners serving in Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Moldova, and other area communities, receiving situation reports, updated appeals, and participating in implementation forums for long-term response planning.
Week of Compassion continues to pray for the people and the peace of Ukraine, and we are grateful to work with partners to serve those most vulnerable, most affected, and most in need.
Story sourced and photos courtesy AIDRom.
As we were preparing this week’s email newsletter, breaking news came of nearly 1000 people so far being evacuated from settlements at the southern stretch of Ukraine’s Dnipro River, after a dam breach sent water flooding the streets and town squares. We received this word from Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA), another partner through ACT Alliance:
With the dam at Nova Kakhovka blown up, a humanitarian catastrophe threatens Kherson and surroundings. Evacuation has begun, and HIA continues to closely monitor events and distribute emergency aid kits to people fleeing rising water levels of the Dnipro River. Utilities are cut off, locals are making use of the more than 60 generators distributed in the area since November. László Lehel, president-director of HIA is also in the region after delivering five tons of aid in Mykolaiv and is conducting high-level talks with local authorities. HIA was one of the first international organizations to assist citizens of Kherson and its surroundings following liberation, and continues to help local people in times of great need. In its efforts to bring relief to the region HIA is supported by ACT Alliance & the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
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