Part 5

Moldova: A Second Home for Thousands of Ukrainians

As many Ukrainian refugees try to make their new home more permanent, Moldova continues to live up to the nickname “small country with a big heart.”

Imagine your home was invaded, and you had to flee for your life. Where would you go? For many Ukrainian refugees living in Moldova, their answer was “somewhere like home.” As VOA’s Carla Babb reports from the capital, Chisinau, the country once thought of as a place like home is now considered by many as their new home.


Olena Prysiazhniuk, Ukrainian Refugee:

Prysiazhniuk “Maybe it was some plan by God. I don’t know what happened, but we fell in love with Moldova. And it was winter — cold, dangerous. But it was love, and this love saved us.”

Olena Prysiazhniuk fled Ukraine with her parents and daughters the first day of the war, leaving behind almost everything they owned to resettle in neighboring Moldova.

Read the full transcript

Olena Prysiazhniuk:

“In all areas in my life was empty, and I needed to build everything from the beginning. And I found this flat. It was also empty. And I started to buy one by one, one cup, one spoon, one something else. And after that, I tried to organize some space that my kids will come for home.”

Prysiazhniuk says she decided to settle in Chisinau because of the friendly people and shared culture. Although Romanian is Moldova’s official language, many here also speak Russian, and…

Olena Prysiazhniuk: “Ukrainian language is everywhere, because the second population in Moldova is Ukrainian.”

It is not hard to find Ukrainian culture on full display at festivals and concerts in the heart of the Moldovan capital.

One hundred seventy thousand Ukrainians lived in Moldova before the war, and 100,000 more Ukrainian refugees now take shelter here from the war raging next door.

Dmytro Lekartsev, National Congress of Ukrainians in Moldova

Lekartsev “They need to be integrated, but of course, their heart and soul are with Ukraine, and of course, they want to hear their mother language and feel the culture. So, events like this help them feel at home.”

Ukrainian advocates like Lekartsey credit Moldova’s government for creating favorable conditions for Ukrainian refugees to become a part of Moldovan society, including access to jobs, housing and education.

Kent Logsdon, US Ambassador to Moldova

Logsdon “The Moldovans were amazing. They coined this a small country with a big heart, and it’s absolutely true.”

U.S. Ambassador Kent Logsdon said when Russia invaded Ukraine, he saw Moldovans from all over the country rush to provide Ukrainians with food, transportation, and basically anything that could help.

Kent Logsdon “Even today, 95% of that 100,000 number of refugees are mostly housed privately. They’re in apartments, they’re still staying with some families — some families who took a family in still have them there. And so, what the international community now is doing is trying to help the republic of Moldova and integrating these people. They’re going to be here for a while.”

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimated that Moldova needed $427 million this year to support its Ukrainian refugee population. But UNHCR and other aid agencies have only received half of that from international donors.

Moldova’s interior minister says international aid is critical because most of the refugees are too old or too young to support themselves.

Adrian Efros, Moldovan Minister of Internal Affairs

“The biggest problem was that all of these refugees were women, old people and kids.”

Olena Prysiazhniuk is now working three jobs to provide for her family. Her main job is with a British NGO called “Hope 4.” She helps Moldovans distribute aid and provides counseling to other Ukrainian refugees.

Olena Prysiazhniuk: “I feel like I need to give back.”

Her daughters have settled into a Russian-speaking school. Tania plays drums, Sophia prefers guitar, and they’re learning to speak Romanian.

Tania “The people are so nice, and they’re helping us a lot.”

Sophia “Even today on the trolley, I forgot my ride pass, and some lady paid for my ticket. People are really nice here, and we’re thankful for that.”

Prysiazhniuk has made two-day trips back to her home in Ukraine to recover the family’s most treasured belongings.

Olena Prysiazhniuk:

“It was not money. Not clothes. No. Not other stuff. No, Just small bag with small letters, pictures, photos. And I just thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m a rich person because I can save all these and now everything’s with me, our photos our valuable things, you know?’”

But, she’s decided, she won’t ever go back to live there again.

Olena Prysiazhniuk: “It’s not important where you’re living. The most important is what you’re doing for your country. And I’m proud to say that I have two homes now in Ukraine and Moldova, because my heart is with Ukraine and with Moldova the same.”

She and her girls keep “dream journals” to stay focused on their goals in their new home. They share pictures and notes about places they want to see and things they want to do, as they pen this new chapter in their lives.