Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, more than 5 million Ukrainians have crossed the Romanian border, fleeing the war. Most chose to go further west, but some decided to stay here. Officially there are 90 348 of them, but the real number could be much higher. Before arriving in Romania, many only knew what Soviet and Russian propaganda had told them, so they were amazed at what they found and how they were received. With all the help they get, however, there are problems, as the refugees find it difficult to integrate due to language barriers and many still feel the psychological impact of the drama they have been through.
A lawyer from Odessa and her husband from Luhansk are thinking of settling in Romania for good
Svitlana is 36 years old and left the Odesa region on February 26. Since then she has never travelled back home. She came to Romania together with her husband and child, after spending several weeks in the Republic of Moldova. “We came to Romania without knowing much about this country, but here we found greater possibilities for the treatment of our child, who needs special medical care. We found here extremely welcoming people and an enormous support from Romanian society”, Svitlana told Veridica.
Svitlana's story is interesting in that her husband is originally from Luhansk, but left the Russian-occupied city in 2014. She avoids talking about her husband, still under the reign of fear induced by separatists in the occupied territories. She tells everyone that it's better no one knows her husband's name because she has many friends and relatives left in the area who could get in trouble. Her husband's parents, with whom they have virtually no connection and who refused to leave the separatist zone in 2014, are still in Luhansk.
The refugee says that in Romania she feels safe, while in the Republic of Moldova she felt that people think differently and do not understand the security threats of the Kremlin regime. She appreciates the openness of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, their efforts, but she does not understand why even now, in the context of the war in Ukraine, they do not take measures to limit the influence of the aggressor state on their country.
“It is good in Romania. Unfortunately, I don't know Romanian, but I can manage with English, for now. I know where to turn if I need help. However, the biggest problem is with my work. I am a lawyer and I cannot practice in Romania. I still work online for various companies in Ukraine. I have a PhD degree in law and I teach law online. My livelihood is still linked to Ukraine and my knowledge of the legal and political space there. Here I won't find any similar activity any time soon”, says Svitlana.
The refugee benefits from the Romanian Government’s support program, known as 50/20, which covers all renting expenses. The family lives in a spacious apartment. According to this program, natural persons who host foreign citizens or stateless persons in special situations, coming from the area of the armed conflict in Ukraine, have the related expenses covered by the state (50 lei for accommodation and 20 lei for food per person per day). Svitlana also seeks the help of non-governmental organizations if she encounters certain difficulties.
She claims that she is thinking more and more about settling in Romania for good and wants Ukraine to be just as united in a few years. “I really like that I have not met pro-Russians here, this makes me calm when I thing of the future of this country”, says Svitlana.
The support she receives from the Romanian state and from non-governmental organizations that will continue in 2023, along with the money earned through her work as a lawyer, provides Svitlana with a more or less stable life in Romania. Much more complicated is the situation of the husband who cannot get a job because he cannot speak any Romanian.
Ten months after fleeing the war, some refugees are still afraid to return
Victoria Udodik (52 years old) and her daughter Anghelina (15 years old) come from a town in the north of the Kyiv region, which was invaded by the Russian troops at the beginning of the war. Victoria and Anghelina got into the car and just ran away. In desperation, Victoria drove the car through forests and on less traveled roads, hoping to reach Polish territory. On the way they heard on the radio that customs and the roads leading to Poland were very busy. That's when they decided to come to Romania for the first time through the Chernivtsi region.
“We stayed for a few days at a hotel in Suceava, where we were accommodated for free. After that, the owner found us an apartment. I have met some true Christians on my way. We’ve met people who deserve our respect”, says Victoria.
Once they arrived in Romania, neither the mother nor the daughter could find their place and purpose. After they started to feel safe and understood that the war was no longer near them, they began to ask themselves: was it good that they left Ukraine? Will they manage to adapt in Romania?
“I was able to relax at a certain point, but Anghelina didn’t”, says Victoria. “I looked for psychologists to help her. With the help of volunteer associations, we signed up for free psychological support, assisted by a translator. Step by step, Anghelina began to look at the world around her differently. Other refugees also arrived, some from the Kyiv region itself. We started interacting with them. We started feeling better, more at home. We both enrolled in Romanian language courses that we attend twice a week”.
Victoria's older daughter and grandson remained in the Kyiv region. They talk every day. Victoria's husband is also in Ukraine, enrolled in a territorial defense unit. He refused to leave the country on the day of the Russian invasion.
After ten months in Romania, Victoria and her younger daughter say they don't want to return home. They are afraid to relive the moments of February. The family benefits from the 50/20 government program and the support of several charitable organizations or international institutions (UNIHCR, Save the Children, Red Cross) with money, vouchers for foodstuffs, clothes, hygiene products, etc.
Anghelina wants to study at a university in Romania, and Victoria is looking for a job, the only barrier being the language. However, after several months of Romanian language courses and interaction with the Romanian environment, Victoria and Anghelina hope that they will manage to integrate.
Asked by Veridica how they will celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, Victoria and Anghelina Udodik say that they will stay at home, drink tea, talk, but their thoughts will be far away – with their relatives and the struggling Ukrainian people.
On the run with seven kids and a broken house left behind
Evgheni is 46 years old and has seven children. He came to Romania in the spring. He hoped that the war would bypass his house and end quickly, which did not happen. Evgheni's family home, located 30 km from the city of Zaporizhzhia, was bombed.
Understanding that it is dangerous to stay in Ukraine, Evgheni contacted his friends in Romania. In Suceava county he was supported by a religious community of which he is a part.
“I thank God every day for giving us this idea to come to Romania. Here our brothers welcomed us and helped us. Our family is large and the only problem is related to accommodation. Sometimes we need medical assistance, I find the system here somehow sophisticated. Children go to school and attend classes. We pray daily for peace in Ukraine and in Romania”, says Evgheni.
Once he arrived in Romania, Evgheni helped, in turn, refugees coming from Donbass. “People in eastern Ukraine were somehow disoriented, they didn't understand what the Russian authorities wanted from them, but they didn’t understand the Ukrainian ones either. No one was good for them. That's why many decided to leave that territory”, says Evgheni.
His older son and a nephew stayed back home. The son could not leave because he is of the age at which he can be conscripted. Evgheni talks to him by phone once every two or three days, but even this connection is becoming increasingly difficult due to frequent power outages.
Evgheni says he would like to return to Ukraine, but he no longer has a home. His village was wiped off the face of the earth. That's why the family is thinking more and more about settling in Romania. Here he feels free, but, unfortunately, the problem of not knowing the Romanian language is becoming more pressing. It is very difficult to find a job.
The family benefits from the support of the Romanian government, and all expenses related to the rent of the house in which they live are settled through the 50/20 program. Refugees are also helped materially by the religious community they belong to. Evgheni says they have everything they need.
Romania, totally different from what Russian propaganda says. The main problem of the refugees, the language barrier
The Ukrainians who fled the war did not know much about Romania. Many of them admit that they were influenced by Russian or even Soviet propaganda. Evgheni, for example, knew that Romania was a very poor state during Nicolae Ceaușescu's regime, and the USSR had to help it financially from time to time. Then, in the informational space in Ukraine, there was practically no talk about Romania. “Now and then, Russian television stations would report on the former socialist states, including Romania, which became US and EU colonies”, says Evgheni.
Another Ukrainian refugee, Jana Agheeva, 56 years old, originally from Gorlovka, Donetsk region, says that all she knew about Romania was that it was a country neighboring Ukraine. No other information could be found in the press. She regrets that people in the east of the country were kept in a certain informational isolation, being deprived of the opportunity to know their neighbors in the west.
Jana managed to find work at volunteer associations that provide pedagogical support to Ukrainian students; the advantage is that there is no need to know the Romanian language there. She is from Gorlovka, but Jana doesn't have much hope that she will return to her hometown. Her son is in Romania, where he found a job with an international company. Jana has no relatives in Ukraine. Like other refugees, the Agheeva family is supported through various governmental and non-governmental programs.
Most of the war refugees from Ukraine with whom Veridica spoke claim that the biggest problem they are faced with is the language barrier. Some are taking free Romanian classes, others, however, believe that they will never be able to reach the level of performance and socio-professional status they had in Ukraine.
These realities create a real psychological discomfort for the refugees: after they manage to relax a bit and realize that they escaped the war, Ukrainians wonder if they will be able to successfully integrate into society here, fearing that they will be rejected at some point. However, Romania and the Romanian people are pleasant discoveries for Ukrainians, many of them regretting that they were kept in a real informational ghetto for so many decades in which the main role was played by the “big brother”, Russia.