“When I first got here it was the middle of the night and there were just three of us and some Orthodox priests helping to translate Ukrainian. Putin is a criminal and these people don’t deserve this.” Daniel Condurache is a Romanian real estate agent who rushed to the Romania-Ukraine border to assist when he heard Russian tanks entering Ukraine (Campbell, 2022). He was there to help the thousands of Ukrainian refugees that would cross the border in the days to come leaving behind war and destruction. On February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin launched an attack on the country of Ukraine after amassing an army on the Ukrainian border over several months (Al Jazeera, 2022). This has resulted in an abundance of refugees fleeing the country. According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of March 31, 2022, more than 4.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine into the surrounding countries. Over 623,000 of those refugees have taken up residency in Romania (The UN Refugee Agency, 2022). This influx of immigrants has created challenges that the Romanian people are meeting.
Refugee process in Romania
In the past, Romania has taken in many refugees fleeing their home countries. Some requirements must be met for a person to be allowed to settle in Romania as a refugee. The UN Refugee Agency Resettlement Handbook’s chapter on Romania contains these specifications (The UN Refugee Agency, 2016). Once the requirements are met, a person might be permitted to seek asylum in Romania. This is the standard procedure to obtain entry into Romania as a refugee. Prior to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Romania had six refugee centers that could house roughly 1,000 people each, maybe 1,500 if needed (Barabas & Benea, As Ukraine, 2022). 2021 already stretched the capacity of Romania’s refugee capabilities as they received more applications for asylum than they had in the past 30 years (Barabas & Benea, The crisis, 2022). Romania has been required to seek other solutions to accommodate the refugees fleeing Ukraine.
As Ukrainians flood into countries like Romania, the host countries must work to provide for the needs of the refugees that they are suddenly charged with protecting. Romania has several open border locations on the Ukrainian border and the Moldovian border that are ready to receive the refugees fleeing war. To enter “with a short stay status,” they must supply a biometric or a passport at the border or they can apply for asylum with another form of identification (such as a national identification card or birth certificate). Provisions are made for the entry of children with a birth certificate and a guardian or for children who arrive alone; all asylum applications are registered at border crossing locations (Marica, Romania, 2022).
Response of the Romanian people
As Ukrainians leave their home country, many are forced to abandon their belongings. People are fleeing by a variety of methods: cars, ferries, and on foot (Widyatmadja & Shivaram, 2022). Romanians are stepping up to assist refugees across the border and through the process of applying for asylum. As previously illustrated by Daniel Condurache, Romanians have stepped in to aid their Ukrainian neighbors. The Times article continues by saying:
Condurache may have been one of the first to arrive… but hundreds of his countrymen were close behind. Today, ordinary Romanians flank both sides of the dusty road leaving the border crossing, offering food, water and essentials like soap and diapers to Ukrainian refugees. Lawyers offer free advice on asylum procedures; others, like Condurache, offer transportation and shelter. “Now everybody’s uniting,” he says. “Romanian people are trying to help all over the country (Campbell, 2022).
Romanians are assisting Ukrainians with transportation in various ways. Additionally, the London Economic recounts the story of a person shuttling Ukrainians over the border in a van. On another occasion, when Anna Whirling asked for transportation from Moldova to Bucharest, someone stepped up and made the trip; a trip of over 600km was made for free (Maciuca, 2022).
Shortly after the fighting began, Adrian, a Romanian, volunteered to assist at the Romania-Ukraine border. He began by driving people from the border to local hotels where lodging was provided free of charge. His wife and daughter also got involved. Adrian noticed that many of the women crossing the border struggled to carry their luggage and their small children. He brought his passport and began to cross the bridge that connects Romania and Ukraine countless times a day, helping people with their bags. Due to the language barrier, many people were understandably hesitant to accept his assistance. To bridge the gap between stranger and friend, Adrian started to offer his teenage daughter’s old toys to the children leaving Ukraine. Because their departure was done in haste and with only the necessities, toys were often left behind. The introduction of a toy into Adrian’s interaction with these people allowed him to bridge the gap. Mothers began to allow him to carry their bags. He did this repeatedly until he ran out of toys. NGOs and other groups started to donate toys to this cause.
These toys had a profound impact on not just the children. Olena, a mother crossing the bridge with three children, said, “I saw volunteers give toys to our kids. I just start to cry; I couldn’t believe that everybody can help us. You know, in Ukraine we just see everybody fighting.” Adrian’s kindness makes the transition to a new way of life a little easier for Ukrainian refugee families with kids (Grămadă, 2022). This is just one story of how Romanians have embraced their neighbors.
Individual citizens of Romania are making a tremendous effort to provide for the Ukrainian people once they are in the country. Hotel owners such as Stefan Mandachi have offered up their rooms without charge to refugees needing a place to stay. He is also providing meals for them at a local restaurant (Marica, Solidarity, 2022). Romanian citizens are opening up their homes to people seeking shelter in a new country (Maciuca, 2022). In Putna, Romania, a monastery has opened its doors to refugees (Kilcoyne & Ilie, 2022). The Romanians are opening their arms to their hurting neighbors as many flee Ukraine.
The Romanian people have stepped up to assist refugees seeking shelter in their country. As the war continues to be waged in Ukraine, more refugees will undoubtedly evacuate the country. They, too, will need a place to go. The Romanians are embracing these foreigners with open arms. They are a bright light amid the dense smoke of war.
Al Jazeera Staff. (2022, February). Timeline: Putin attacks Ukraine- how it happened. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/24/timeline-putin-attacks-ukraine-how-i t-happened
Barabas, A., Benea, I. (2022, February). As Ukraine tensions mount, Romania is mostly unprepared for war refugees. Europa Libera Romania. https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-ref ugees-romania-unprepared/31704846.html
Barabas, A., Benea, I. (2022, February). The crisis in Ukraine how ready is Romania to receive refugees. Europa Libera Romania. https://romania.europalibera.org/a/refugiatia-ucraina-r omania/31697638.html
Campbell, Charlie. (2022, February). Despite decades of tension, Romanians are embracing Ukrainian refugees. Time. https://time.com/6152201/romania-ukraine-refugees-solidarity
Grămadă, Roxana. (2022, March). Crossing the bridge of toys. The United Nations Children’s Fund. https://www.unicef.org/romania/stories/crossing-bridge-toys
Kilcoyne, C. & Ilie, L. (2022, March). Romanian monks welcome Ukrainian refugees at medieval monastery. Reuters. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/romanian-monks- welcome-ukrainian-refugees-at-medieval-monastery/ar-AAV8z9H
Marica, Irina. (2022, February). Romania welcomes Ukrainian refugees: Short guide to entry rules, asylum regulations & what to expect at the border. Romania-Insider.com. https://w ww.romania-insider.com/ukrainians-romania-entry-rules-2022
Marica, Irina. (2022, February). Solidarity with Ukraine: NGOs, companies and individuals unite to offer help to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Romania. Romania-Insider.com. https://w ww.romania-insider.com/solidarity-ukraine-romania-refugees-2022