Winter has turned to spring, and the war is still raging in our neighbourhood. Last week we drove, yet again, across the country. Two friends from the UK were sent to Romania by their organisation, to assess the needs and see how they could help. Knowing that we have been deeply involved in responding to the humanitarian crisis since its outbreak, we accepted the invitation to show them around and introduce them to some of the people we know who are doing amazing work in various parts of the country.
Just one week has passed, but already the situation at the borders is noticeably different. The temperatures are high enough to be almost comfortable now, if you are well dressed. What used to be a wave of refugees is now more like a slow and continuous drizzle. The systems and safety measures that the Romanian government has put in place at the border, in collaboration with various local and international NGOs, is efficient and, to be honest, impressive. A rotating group of volunteers, including translators, are stationed at the border at all times to receive the refugees when they come; they are immediately informed of their rights, provided a sim-card for their phones so that they can call anyone in Ukraine or in Romania free of charge, their individual needs are being addressed and they are taken to wherever they need to be. There are rigorous safety measures in place to ensure that not just anyone can come to the border on the Romanian side; we always have to show our IDs, explain our purpose for being there as well as who we are connected with. Considering that human trafficking and other forms of exploitation of vulnerable people is often a side-effect of war, we are thankful that Romania is stepping up to address these challenges head on.
A woman came through the group of volunteers, guided by a Romanian police officer, and her face told a story all on its own.
A woman came through the group of volunteers, guided by a Romanian police officer, and her face told a story all on its own. She was carrying a suitcase with one hand, her other arm wrapped around her son, as if trying to shield him from everything, and at the same time, trying to shield herself. Right behind her came an elderly lady who refused to accept some Romanian money that was being offered to her by another volunteer. Meanwhile, a stream of Ukrainian cars filled with food, medicine and other essentials, as well as people walking on foot, were heading back into Ukraine. We can only guess what reasons they had for returning, but, having spoken to many Ukrainians by now, we know that it is difficult for them to leave their country, and even after they’ve left, they search for ways to serve their people back home.
At the border of Siret we spoke with a young Ukrainian volunteer, 15 years old Vadyim. One year ago, all he wanted to do was to bike around with his friends in his village. He now crosses the border from Ukraine every day to help the refugees from his own country who are fleeing from war. Like so many others like him, his life was completely turned upside down; From one day to the next, he went from being a kid riding his bike to becoming a humanitarian front-line worker. When we asked him about his dreams about the future, he simply shrugged and said “a lot of people said I should go to the US”. We encouraged him to continue practicing his English, and, as soon as it is possible, to go back to school.
We were so privileged to be able to drive around Romania and introduce our British friends to the brave and resilient front-line workers in our country and in Moldova. We hope that this trip will ensure that those who work selflessly to help Ukrainian refugees, on top of their daily efforts to help those in need in their local communities, will get some financial security.
While we insisted that we didn’t want any food, they still served us a feast we will never forget, and gifted us bags with beautiful crafts that the women in the community had made themselves.
Towards the end of our trip, we crossed into Moldova to visit our friends in Cahul. While we insisted that we didn’t want any food, they still served us a feast we will never forget, and gifted us bags with beautiful crafts that the women in the community had made themselves. Once again we are amazed and humbled, as we are confronted with the fact that those who have the least still tend to give the most. Adding to the drama on the way back, we were suddenly running out of diesel, and had to fill a few bottles from Moldova to get us to the nearest gas station.
After five full days of driving, working and meeting people, we returned back in Cluj, exhausted but thankful. Once again, it seemed like timing was on our side, as we were not called for any big emergencies until the very evening we arrived home. We are now urgently focused on helping an elderly mother with her disabled son (the same family we were told had made it to Poland a while ago, who were apparently stopped before they got that far and have been taken advantage of in a mountain village in Ukraine). They will soon be in the care of our friends in Cernauti, and we are preparing to receive them. We are also working hard to figure out how to extract an elderly single woman, 85 years old, who has one broken leg and nobody to help her get to safety.
When these stories reach us our hearts cry and we are moved to action.
We are so thankful to you for your continued support, without which we cannot do anything. We want you to know that you are with us everywhere we go and in everything we do to help our Ukrainian neighbours.
PS: Our Ukrainian friends with the three dogs have finally found a suitable place for the whole family. We also received and took care of an elderly couple who drove all the way from Kharkov, and are now with our friends in Craiova. Their smiles and tears of gratitude are overwhelming for us, as we know all too well the horrors that they’ve escaped from. And you, dear friends, even if it comes through us, we hope that you receive their gratitude in full.
PPS: Liviu got a very heavy cold (thankfully, not Covid-19), but it didn’t stop him from driving around and continuing to work ten hours a day. Please, pray for our health and encourage him to get some rest.