Moldova’s Jews step in to help Ukraine refugees

Jewish community has aided 16,000 escaping from war and sent 2,000 Jews on to Israel


Members of Moldova's Jewish Women's Support Group help Ukrainian refugees make Hamentashen for Purim (Photo: Jewish Community of Moldova)

Before Ukraine was invaded by Russia, the neighbouring Republic of Moldova had a population of 2.4 million, and a Jewish community of less than 20,000.

Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe but, because of its proximity to Ukraine — its capital, Chisinau, lies a mere 62 miles from the border — since February 2022 it has seen more than 1 million refugees pass through the country, while the number of Jewish people has swelled to between 90,000 and 100,000.

At the start of the invasion, the Jewish Community of the Republic of Moldova (JCRM), an umbrella organisation, launched a crisis response and has since given humanitarian aid to 16,000 displaced Ukrainians, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

“The first three months were a saving operation which we’d never seen before and hopefully won’t see again, with thousands of Ukrainians arriving every week by car, bus and even on foot, seeking temporary accommodation and other emergency support,” Aliona Grossu, director of the JCRM, told the JC.

“Many women, children, families, people with chronic diseases and elderly people, including Holocaust survivors, were transported to Chisinau and when they arrived, we gave them shelter, hygiene products, kosher food and access to medical services.”

Working together with national, international, governmental and non-governmental organisations, the JCRM opened 11 temporary accommodation centres for displaced people in Chisinau and, through its specially set-up Humanitarian Aid Centre (HAC), it provided food, and free medical support from Magen David Adom and other organisations.

Over the last two years it has also sent nearly 2,000 Ukrainian Jews to Israel and paid for more than 300 displaced Ukrainians to travel onwards to other countries in Europe and North America.

Oksana Alieva and her daughter were safely relocated to Spain by the HAC. “We came to Moldova at the beginning of March 2022, fleeing the horrors of war,” she says.

“The Jewish Community of Moldova extended a helping hand to us, helped us to financially survive difficult times, and together we prayed for peace and for the end to the war. They organised our move to Alicante by contacting the Jewish Community of Alicante and the Federation in Spain.”

Now, with fewer refugees arriving, the JCRM has closed all but one of its temporary accommodation centres — the remaining one is specifically housing displaced Ukrainian Jews waiting to go to Israel — and has shifted its focus from providing an emergency response to offering more sustainable support.

As well as helping refugees to locate and travel to host communities in other countries, the HAC has run several projects supporting those who have chosen to stay behind in Moldova. These have included setting up a popular Women’s Support Group, giving financial aid and access to free medical services and supporting cultural, social and religious engagement with community programmes.

Its latest initiative, supported by the UNHCR in Moldova, is a programme which connects female mentors from the JCRM with the refugee community.

The aim is to help them integrate into Moldovan society and encourage them to work, by offering individual guidance on requalifying, setting up businesses and learning Romanian, as well as psychological support to help deal with the trauma they have experienced. If it’s successful, they will roll it out across other regions and communities.

“We know that the rate of employment of refugees who stay here is very low, with most living on social welfare provided by international organisations, because the Moldovan government cannot offer such support financially,” says Aliona.

Coping with the mass influx of displaced Ukrainians is one of many challenges Moldova has faced since the invasion: it has also been affected by inflation and price hikes. But the JCRM is still working tirelessly to help as many people as possible.

“Of course, our main desire is for the war to stop,” says Aliona. “We can be as creative as we like but we cannot cure or solve the major problems.

“Whatever we are doing is just a temporary dip in the big tragedy and pain these people are going through.”

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