Childhood refuge: Moldova becomes a second home for Ukrainian children – thanks to European Union funding, People in Need Moldova has supported social inclusion programmes and campaigns

Published: Feb 21, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
Childhood refuge: Moldova becomes a second home for Ukrainian children – thanks to European Union funding, People in Need Moldova has supported social inclusion programmes and campaigns
© Photo: iRi

Although Russia's war in Ukraine has left its tragic mark on virtually every Ukrainian, children have been particularly affected by the war. The Russian invasion overshadowed the most beautiful time of anyone's life — childhood. The war has forced many of Ukraine's children to grow up far too fast. In Moldova, host communities are making every effort to return colour to the lives of Ukrainian children who have had their childhoods stolen by Russia's war. One such activity is the "We are from Ukraine; we love Moldova!" campaign launched by the Institute for Rural Initiatives (iRi).

After 24 February 2022, the three MEET Community Centres managed by the Institute for Rural Initiatives, located in Chisinau, Cahul, and Drochia, have become veritable islands of hope where the children chased away by war found refuge. Here, children from Ukraine have found a place where they can productively spend their free time. The MEET Centres allow children to play, socialise with their peers, and learn new things in a friendly and safe space. For example, the centres have provided the children with the LabDesign design laboratory, where they learn to express themselves through art.

One of the centre's most loyal visitors is Sonea, an 11-year-old girl from the town of Vinita. She now lives in Moldova with her sister, grandmother, and mother, who, after registering for refugee status, joined an international humanitarian organisation to help her compatriots. Like millions of other Ukrainians, Sonea's family fled the war, and Chisinau and the MEET Centre have become a second home for them.

The variety of interests and hobbies that Sonea is passionate about is unique. She is studying the Korean language and culture, as well as learning to dance, play guitar, and volunteering for multiple charity initiatives. These are just part of the string of activities, which this little Ukrainian girl practices. Besides, Sonea is also passionate about writing stories for children. Although she is involved in many activities throughout the week, Sonea also manages to regularly participate in "LabDesign" activities organised by the MEET Centre in Chisinau. She was won over by the lab opportunities, the friendly atmosphere, and how the course "Expression through Art" is taught. This motivated her not only not to miss class but also to bring her younger sister, Tania to the course.

"Here at the MEET Centre, it's interesting; I like the lessons... It's easier for me now to draw what I like. I realised that I would like to become a designer, a stylist, and a psychologist," says Sonea.

According to Sonea, she rediscovered herself in LabDesign. This is where she fell in love with drawing, painting and other creative things that now help her express herself. Previously, she had also attended other community centres in Chisinau. However, here, at the MEET Centre, there is a unique atmosphere: she can talk in her mother tongue with other children from Ukraine.

"In Moldova, I started to speak several languages; I even started to learn Romanian. But in my mother tongue, I can only talk to my friends at the MEET Centre. A mini library has also opened here, where I can read books in Ukrainian. I don't want to forget my mother tongue. This is very important for me," says Sonea.

In addition to the educational and recreational opportunities that MEET Centres offer children, they are also perfect places to make new friends. This is often not easy for children who have been through the ordeal of war and ended up in a foreign country hundreds of miles from home.

Thanks to EU funding, we at People in Need Moldova have been able to support community organisations, which in turn create social connection and integration in the community. The caring atmosphere at MEET Centres helps young people cope with stress and build new relationships with their peers, many of whom have had the same experience. The Meet Centre is where Sonea made a new best friend, Daria, whom she tries to surprise on special occasions with various handmade gifts. The girls took very little time to become best friends.

Since the beginning of the war, every effort has been made to support and encourage refugee children from Ukraine to put effort into activities which would allow them to have something of a childhood here in Moldova.

The campaign "We are from Ukraine, we love Moldova!" was implemented by the Institute for Rural Initiatives within the "Civil Society Resilience and Media Response to the War in Ukraine" project, funded by the European Union and developed by People in Need Moldova in partnership with the Civil Society Centre in Prague and the Helsinki Committee in the Netherlands.

Autor: Dmitrii Vosimeric, asistent de comunicare

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