Moldovans Welcome Fleeing Ukrainians, but Some Pack Their Own Bags, Too (Published 2022) (2023)


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Moldova has taken in more Ukrainians, per capita, than any other country. But the closer Russian troops get to Moldova, the more locals consider their own escape plans.

Moldovans Welcome Fleeing Ukrainians, but Some Pack Their Own Bags, Too (Published 2022) (1)

ByPatrick Kingsley

Photographs byLaetitia Vancon

PURCARI, Moldova — Angela Dragan, a chef at a famous Moldovan winery, has spent the past two weeks making food for the exodus of refugees fleeing the invasion in neighboring Ukraine, and has hosted at least 10 of them in her home. There but for the grace of God, she reckons.

But grace can be fleeting, and so every day, Ms. Dragan brings her passport to work, ready to join the exodus if necessary. For now, she said, she won’t do so “for moral reasons — refugees are coming and we need to help them.” But if the Russians advance toward Moldova? “We could leave at any moment,” she said.

Across Moldova, a small, poor post-Soviet democracy next to Ukraine’s southwestern border, Moldovans are watching Russia’s advance on nearby Odessa — and packing their bags, just in case. The war has already profoundly affected Moldova: Per capita, it has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees than any other country, and many ordinary Moldovans havehoused refugees in their apartments. Now, some Moldovans are wondering if and when they should join a westward exodus that is already Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

“I have people who ask me every day: ‘If I go, where should I go?’” said Alina Radu, the editor of Ziarul de Garda, an investigative newspaper in Moldova. “And I have people who want to see examples of people staying, because they are afraid.”


Russia has said nothing about invading Moldova, and Belarus, its close ally, has retracted a map, shown in a briefing last week by the Belarusian president, that was marked with arrows suggesting a planned Russian advance into Moldova.

But the events of the last month in Ukraine, coupled with the weak state of the Moldovan military and the country’s turbulent history, have persuaded some Moldovans that anything is possible, and that it is just common sense to be considering an exit strategy.

A Russian regiment is already stationed on Moldovan soil, in thebreakaway, Russian-backed territory of Transnistria, where secessionists took control after a war in 1992. Moldova is closer to the Ukrainian front lines than any other country not itself involved in the war. And Moldova has a long history of being dominated by foreign powers, including the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

For many Moldovans, it is easy to imagine the invading Russian armies in Ukraine, currently just 100 miles east of Moldova, advancing westward to Transnistria — or beyond.

“We’ve been a couple of times swallowed by the Russians,” said Elena Ivanesi, 39, who fled Moldova on the first day of the war in Ukraine with her husband and two children, fearing a new Russian invasion. Ms. Ivanesi spoke by phone from a friend’s house in western Romania; she has left her own home in the hands of a family of refugees from Ukraine.

Moldova is “in a very weak position,” Ms. Ivanesi explained. “We don’t have the power to fight.”



While the Moldovan government and foreign diplomats say there is currently no evidence of Transnistria getting dragged into the war, the mood here is fraught.

European ambassadors felt obliged Tuesday to release a video proving that they were still in Moldova, amid rumors that they had left en masse. In one isolated village in eastern Moldova, residents caused a brief run on a bank last month amid fears that the Ukraine war would prompt violence in Transnistria, potentially cutting off their supply routes.

“On one hand, we’re witnessing unprecedented unity and mobilization of people in helping the refugees,” said Alexandru Flenchea, a political analyst and former deputy prime minister. “But on the other hand, people are scared.”

On a busy street in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, Veronica Soltan, a 70-year-old teacher, pulled a brand-new suitcase along the sidewalk. If Russia invades, Ms. Soltan said, she will head immediately to Moldova’s western border with Romania, where her son has promised to collect her. Now she had a small blue suitcase to pack her things in.

“The Russians will conquer Ukraine, and after that they’ll come to Moldova,” Ms. Soltan said. “They’ll make the map like it was in 1945,” when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union.



Several people who had already packed their bags declined to be interviewed or to give their full names, worried about being seen as cowardly.

But to Ms. Soltan, who later packed her bag with essential clothes, medication and identity documents, her decision was simply logical. “We have to be ready,” she said. “Because you don’t know when it will happen.”

Moldova is no stranger to emigration. Since leaving the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the country hasexperienced huge depopulation, as citizens headed abroad to escape a dawdling economy and rampant corruption for better opportunities elsewhere. About a quarter of Moldovans now live outside the country, according to estimates by the United Nations Development Program.

That in turn makes it easier for those still in Moldova to leave themselves: They have a network of friends and family to stay with abroad. About 40 percent of Moldovans also have a Romanian passport, which allows them to settle anywhere in the European Union, the bloc that Romania joined in 2007.

Some have already made use of these avenues.

The week the war started, Vitalie Perciun, a Moldovan video producer based in Britain, drove 1,700 miles across Europe to pick up his two daughters from Moldova, where they live with his ex-wife.



“We don’t know if Putin will attack Moldova, but there’s no reason to assume that he won’t,” Mr. Perciun said in a phone interview, as he drove his children back to Britain, somewhere on the road between Brussels and Calais, France. “I’ve been saying to everyone near to me: If you want to leave — leave now,” Mr. Perciun said. “Before the panic sets in.”

Government records suggest that there has been only a small rise in the net number of Moldovans who have left the country since the start of the war. More than 62,000 Moldovans left between Feb. 24, the first day of the Russian invasion, and Monday, about 22,000 more than during the same period last year. But the number of Moldovans returning to Moldova has also risen, by 17,000, according to data supplied by the Moldovan interior ministry.

Many Moldovans say they intend to stay.

One of them is Ms. Radu, the newspaper editor. She said she was proud of having stayed in Moldova throughout its post-Soviet history, even as many others left. She wants to sustain her newspaper, though that work would put her at risk should Russia invade.

“There is another way,” Ms. Radu said. “To stay, to fight, and to make a better life where you are.”


Irina Perciun contributed reporting.

Patrick Kingsley is the Jerusalem bureau chief, covering Israel and the occupied territories. He has reported from more than 40 countries, written two books and previously covered migration and the Middle East for The Guardian. @PatrickKingsley

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How many Ukrainian refugees are in Moldova today? ›

As of this month, March 2023, over 107 000 Ukrainian refugees remain in the Republic of Moldova, which serves as both a transit and a destination point.

What is the Russian plan to destabilize Moldova? ›

The plan includes making Moldova dependent on imports of Russian gas and stirring up social conflict, as well as trying to block Moldova's efforts to gain influence in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, where some 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed.

Does Moldova recognize Transnistria? ›

Transnistria, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, is an unrecognized breakaway state that is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova.

How many refugees has Moldova taken in? ›

About 100,000 decided to stay in the nation of 2.6 million – the highest per capita influx to any neighboring country. In several ways, Moldova resembles pre-war Ukraine. It is a multilingual and multiethnic country with a rich history.

Which country took most Ukrainian refugees? ›

By early November, according to the UNHCR, the number of Ukrainian refugees recorded across Europe was around 7.8 million. The countries receiving the largest numbers of refugees were Russia (2.9 million), Poland (1.5 million), Germany (1 million) and the Czech Republic (0.4 million).

What percentage of Moldova is Russian? ›

Demographics of Moldova
Major ethnicMoldovans 75.1%
Minor ethnicRomanians 7.0%, Ukrainians 6.6%, Gagauz 4.6%, Russians 4.1%, Bulgarians 1.9%
25 more rows

Does Russia have troops in Moldova? ›

To this day, Moldova continues to request the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Transnistria, having done so as recently as in 2021.

Why is Moldova not in NATO? ›

The Republic of Moldova does not allow the deployment of armed forces of other states on its territory." Thus, since Moldova's neutrality is enshrined in its constitution, the country has no plans to join either NATO or CSTO.

Does Russia recognize Moldova? ›

Separatist regions

Transnistria, a de facto independent region of Moldova, is supported by Russia, although Russia has not recognised Transnistria. There have been proposals in Transnistria for joining the Russian Federation.

Is Moldova at risk from Russia? ›

Last month, the head of Moldova's Security Service warned there is a “very high” risk that Russia will launch a new offensive in Moldova's east in 2023. Moldova is not a NATO member, making it more vulnerable to Putin's agenda.

Does the US recognize Moldova? ›

The United States recognized Moldova's independence on December 25, 1991, when President George H.W. Bush announced the decision in an address to the nation regarding the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Moldova previously had been a constituent republic of the USSR.

What is the secret country between Moldova and Ukraine? ›

Transnistria is landlocked and borders Bessarabia (the region the Republic of Moldova is based on, for 411 km; 255 mi) to the west, and Ukraine (for 405 km; 252 mi) to the east.

What are the top 3 countries hosting refugees? ›

Ranking of the largest refugee-hosting countries as of 2022
CharacteristicNumber of admitted refugees
9 more rows
Jan 12, 2023

What is Moldova known for? ›

Why is Moldova famous? Mainly for its world-class wine, ancient monasteries and unspoiled open countryside - and for its distinct lack of crowds.

Which country is dealing the most with refugees? ›

Türkiye hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.7 million people. Colombia is second with more than 2.5 million, including other people in need of international protection. At the end of 2021, of the 89.3 million forcibly displaced people, an estimated 36.5 million (41%) are children below 18 years of age.

Where do most Ukrainian refugees go in the US? ›

In the year since Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. have volunteered to sponsor Ukrainians seeking refuge. Zoom in: Seattle and Sacramento have been some of the most welcoming metro areas in proportion to their populations, according to Homeland Security data.

How many Ukrainian refugees are in the US? ›

More than 271,000 Ukrainian refugees have been admitted to the United States since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began one year ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security, far above President Joe Biden's stated goal of admitting 100,000.

How many Ukrainians live in the United States? ›

Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.

In 2021, an estimated 398,000 Ukrainian immigrants lived in the U.S. Another 708,000 people born in the U.S. claimed Ukrainian ancestry.

Who are Moldovans descended from? ›

Present day Moldova was carved from Romania (Bessarabia) and Ukraine (Transnistria) in 1940 and annexed to the Soviet Union. Two thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent.

Is Moldova more Ukrainian or Romanian? ›

Republic of Moldova Republica Moldova (Romanian)
Recognised minority languagesSee here Belarusian Bulgarian Gagauz German Hebrew Polish Romani Russian Ukrainian
Ethnic groups (2014; excl. Transnistria)82.07% Moldovans / Romanians 6.57% Ukrainians 4.57% Gagauzes 4.06% Russians 1.88% Bulgarians 0.85% Other
51 more rows

Is Moldova a good place to live? ›

In particular, Moldova has become one of the most comfortable countries to live in, so we share current prices for renting housing, food, entertainment and travel in the country.

Are US troops in Moldova? ›

"I feel that having the U.S. Army here in the Republic of Moldova is a sign that we are heading in the right direction," said Salaru. "We are proud that the U.S. Army is here, and we are proud that the Republic of Moldova not only has a partner in the U.S. Army, but also a friend.

Is Moldova an ally of the United States? ›

Moldova has generally cordial relations with the United States, but they vary depending on whether Chisinau has a pro-Western or pro-Russian political party in power.

Is Moldova NATO friendly? ›

NATO fully respects Moldova's constitutional neutrality. Relations with NATO started in 1992, when Moldova joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council.

Why can't Moldova join the EU? ›

The level of poverty in Moldova (the country is the poorest among the potential EU members) is a stumbling block to accession. The Transnistria conflict, concerning a self-proclaimed breakaway republic supported by Russia, is also an obstacle.

Why is Moldova not Romania? ›

In 1940, during World War II, Romania agreed to an ultimatum and ceded Moldova to the Soviet Union, which organized it into the Moldavian SSR.

How big is the Moldovan army? ›

Armed Forces of the Republic of Moldova
Active personnel6,500 Professional Personnel + 2,000 Annual Conscripts (2022)
Reserve personnel65,000-70,000 (2018)
Budget$25.5 million (2022)
24 more rows

What was Moldova before? ›

Formerly known as Bessarabia, this region was an integral part of the Romanian principality of Moldavia until 1812, when it was ceded to Russia by its suzerain, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

What language is spoken in Moldova? ›

Article Moldova: Romanian Recognized as the Official Language. (Dec. 23, 2013) On December 5, 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova ruled that the Romanian language is the official language of this country.

Does Romania recognize Moldova? ›

Moldova and Romania have experienced an exceptional relationship since Moldova's independence in 1991. Pan-Romanianism has been a consistent part of Moldovan politics, and was adopted in the Popular Front of Moldova's platform in 1992. Most of Moldova was part of Romania during the Interwar period.

Is it safe for Americans to visit Moldova? ›

Pickpocketing, bag snatching and other petty crimes are common, particularly in Chisinau. Criminals target trains and hotel rooms. Police officers, or people posing as police officers, may ask for bribes, including in tourist areas. Internet fraud can originate in Moldova.

Are Americans allowed to travel to Moldova? ›

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements

Please visit the Embassy's COVID-19 page here for more information on COVID-19 in Moldova. Visit the Embassy of Moldova website for the most current visa information. U.S. citizens may stay in Moldova for up to 90 days within a six-month period without a visa.

What problems does Moldova have? ›

Moldova's external position has deteriorated due to the impact of the energy crisis and lower remittances. As share of GDP, external debt decreased to 62.1 percent. The monetary stance has been relaxed after inflation reached its peak in October 2022.

Does the US have an embassy in Moldova? ›

The American Embassy in Chisinau protects and promotes American interests and develops relations with Moldova through contacts with Moldovan government, business, labor, agriculture, media and education leaders.

What is the US relationship with Moldova? ›

U.S. government assistance aims to help Moldova strengthen its democratic institutions, increase prosperity, secure its internationally recognized borders, and integrate with Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community. Since 1992, the United States has provided over $1.4 billion in assistance to Moldova.

Who supports Moldova? ›


Why is Moldova the least visited country in Europe? ›

Moldova is landlocked, has no natural resources outside of fertile agricultural land and has recently been relying on handouts from the EU to try and keep their country together.

What section of Moldova is Russian? ›

Moldova is also home to a breakaway region called Transnistria that has strong Russian ties, landing both places in the crosshairs of the war in Ukraine. Moldova's government voted on March 2, 2023, to formally condemn Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Where is Moldova part of NATO? ›

Although Moldova is not a member of NATO, it does cooperate with the organization and contributes to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Sandu, along with other leaders, met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in New York during the United Nations General Assembly in September last year.

What is the largest group of refugees to come to the United States? ›

Refugees from Myanmar were the largest group, at 21 percent (more than 125,100) of the almost 600,900 refugees admitted between FY 2010 and 2020. Iraqis were next at 18 percent (109,400 individuals), followed by Bhutanese refugees at 13 percent (77,400 refugees).

Where do most refugees come from to the United States? ›

Conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere are driving hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek shelter in neighboring countries, Europe and the United States. These crises are the most recent in a long line of conflicts forcing people from their homes.

Which European country takes the most asylum seekers? ›

Main countries of destination – Germany, France, Spain and Austria. With 217 735 applicants registered in 2022, Germany accounted for 24.7 % of all first-time asylum applicants in the EU. It was followed by France (137 510, or 15.6 %), Spain (116 135, or 13.2 %) and Austria (106 380, or 12.1 %).

What is the main food from Moldova? ›

Without a doubt, 'mămăliga,' or polenta, is Moldova's best-known and most traditional dish. Polenta is made from corn flour, to which a little butter is added. It is generally served with sheep's cheese or cottage cheese and sour cream.

What is Moldova rich in? ›

Moldova produces liqueur and sparkling wine. It is also known for its sunflower seeds, walnuts, apples, and other fruits. This makes the area ideal for agriculture and food processing, which accounts for about 40% of the country's GDP.

Why is Moldova beautiful? ›

First and foremost, many tourists agree that Moldova is a beautiful country with stunning landscapes and scenic views. The country is home to rolling hills, charming villages, and lush vineyards. The countryside is particularly impressive, with its unspoiled nature and authentic rural lifestyle.

Which country does not accept refugees? ›

Gallup's updated Migrant Acceptance Index ranks North Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro – southeast European countries that along with Greece and Italy faced the initial waves of refugees – as the least-accepting countries for migrants.

What country has the world's largest refugee crisis currently? ›

Syria: 13.6 Million People Displaced

The Syrian refugee crisis remains the largest humanitarian and development crisis in the world. Nearly 7 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 6.6 million have been forced to seek safety as refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond.

How many refugees are in the US? ›

27.1 million refugees. 53.2 million internally displaced people. 4.6 million asylum seekers.

How many Ukrainians have entered Moldova? ›

Palanca: The primary border crossing

The village of Palanca on the Ukrainian border is less than an hour's drive from the city of Odesa and has been the main crossing point for the 750,000 refugees who have fled the war through Moldova.

How many Ukrainian refugees are in Romania? ›

More than 113,000 people from Ukraine are registered as refugees hosted in neighbouring Romania.

Would Moldova join NATO? ›

The Republic of Moldova does not allow the deployment of armed forces of other states on its territory." Thus, since Moldova's neutrality is enshrined in its constitution, the country has no plans to join either NATO or CSTO.

How many Moldovans are in Ukraine? ›

Other countries
26 more rows

How many Ukrainian refugees have come to the US? ›

More than 271,000 Ukrainian refugees have been admitted to the United States since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began one year ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security, far above President Joe Biden's stated goal of admitting 100,000.

How many Russians live in Moldova? ›

Russians in Moldova
Self-identificationMoldovan censusTotal

How many Ukrainian refugees are in Canada? ›

Despite having issued more than 650,000 visas, less than 150,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since the program started, according to the government. That means about 80 per cent of Ukrainian applicants who receive a visa choose not to move to Canada.

How many Ukrainian refugees are in Germany? ›

Ukrainian refugees in Germany

As of April 2023, over 1.06 million refugees from Ukraine were recorded in Germany.

How many Ukrainian refugees are in Ireland? ›

There are 73,002 refugees from Ukraine in Ireland (0.9% of the total number of refugees). As a comparison the number of people receiving temporary protection in a sample of other countries is: Czech Republic: 485,775. France: 118,994.


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