Business owners Nadezhda and VItalie have converted their office space into a shelter for refugees, including six-year-old Veronika and her family from Odessa.
By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Ialoveni, Moldova | June 03, 2022
Nadezhda Grosu and VItalie Ovcearenco had just moved into their new offices in Ialoveni near the Moldovan capital Chisinau when images of refugees fleeing war in Ukraine filled the news channels.
The couple’s business manufactures wooden pallets for local and export markets, and they were expanding their business when thousands of people – mostly women and children – started arriving at the border. Touched by the suffering they saw, they immediately resolved to house as many people as possible.
“We couldn’t focus on expanding our business any longer while people were suffering before our eyes,” VItalie said. “So we started to turn our office into a shelter for refugees,”
This involved moving all of their equipment into the small office they had recently vacated and converting the new office by adding partitions, installing toilets and plumbing, and buying beds and other furniture to make it as comfortable and welcoming as possible.
Less than two weeks after the conflict began on February 24, Nadezhda Karpenko and her daughters Oleksandra, 15, and Veronika, 6, became the first occupants of the newly refurbished office. They had fled after days of relentless shelling near their home in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, leaving Nadezhda’s husband and 20-year-old son behind.
“The trip only took us two hours, but once we reached the border, I didn’t know anyone in Moldova to ask for help,” Nadejda said. But thanks to the information shared by the volunteers on social networks, she made contact with her new hosts and went to the accommodation.
Since the start of the war, approximately 480,000 refugees have entered the Republic of Moldova. Most have since left, but some 100,000 – mostly women and children – remain in the country, the vast majority being hosted by Moldovan families.
Moldova responded with a massive mobilization of citizens, grassroots organizations, civil society and government services to support new arrivals.
Online platforms have sprung up to connect people fleeing Ukraine with those offering help. However, given the proliferation of these networks at the start of the crisis, the government set up a centralized platform – dopomoga.gov.md – to provide information on issues such as housing, transport and medical care. , and to ensure better protection for refugees.
Nadezhda and VItalie are the epitome of the warm welcome with which Moldovans have welcomed refugees from Ukraine from day one,” said Francesca Bonelli, the representative of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in the Republic from Moldova. “I would like to thank the government and people of Moldova for opening their borders, their homes and their hearts to people fleeing Ukraine.”
In Moldova, UNHCR provides cash grants to refugees such as Nadezhda and her family, allowing them to prioritize their most urgent needs, as well as a range of other assistance and protection services. Bonelli reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to working closely with the government to ensure refugees receive the support they need.
The World Food Program provides similar support to host families like Nadezhda and VItalie to help share some of the costs. “Our guests have received their first payment and we have received one-time financial assistance, which we appreciate,” confirmed Nadejda.
While the family welcomed up to 20 people at a time, Nadezhda and her daughters were the only ones who stayed throughout, saying, “We would like to stay close to home and with our friends for life until so we can come back.”
Nadejda and VItalie say they are ready to help the refugees “as long as they need it”, but added that over time more activities would be needed to keep them occupied. “I would appreciate help from somewhere that can keep our guests busy during the day when we are all busy with our daily routines,” Nadejda said.
UNHCR is working with the authorities to create socio-economic opportunities for refugees and young Moldovans so they can help themselves and contribute to the national economy.
However, one person who has no trouble looking after is Veronika, Nadezhda’s six-year-old daughter, who spends her days playing happily with her foster family’s dog Bars, her many toys and a precious telescope, which she proudly showed off on a video. call with UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ben Stiller.
However, Veronika’s mother told the actor, producer and director that it was at night that the impact of their situation weighed most heavily on her youngest child. “He misses his brother, his grandmother and his father. She sometimes cries a lot at night,” Veronika explained.
“I want to go home,” added Veronika. “I miss my playmates Maxim, Andal, Vishnurat and would love to play with them again.”
Until then, she and her family have a safe home with Nadezhda and Vitaly, whose response to the crisis reflects the help offered by so many across Moldova. Stiller summed it up by telling them, “Your generosity is an inspiration to many around the world.”