I am a freelance photographer and visual artist based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia working with National Geographic Russia, VICE UK/USA, De Volkskrant, Takie Dela, Meduza, Novaya Gazeta, others. My photographic practice primarily focuses on the...
More than 400 thousand refugees from Ukraine entered the territory of Moldova since the beginning of war, more than 90 thousand remained in the republic, while the rest continued on their way to the EU countries. More than 90% of these people are women with children in their arms. The state provides accommodation for refugees in temporary residence centers, but a rather large part of the arrivals are accommodated at local houses, which is the main feature of this region. This happens due to family and friendship ties, proximity, similarity of mentalities, and the absence of a language barrier. The present project is dedicated to the Moldovans who showed solidarity sheltering people fleeing from war and their Ukrainian guests sharing their stories.
"We won't leave them hungry" Olesya (Mariupol, Ukraine) and Karina (Kharkov, Ukraine), Olimpiada and Vladimir (Soroki, Moldova).
On the morning of February 24, 38-year-old resident of Mariupol Olesya, as usual, went to work at the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works, when her 19-year-old daughter Karina called her from Kharkov: “Mom, we have a bombing, we are in the basements!” .
Although they still felt the war to this day - shelling echoes reached the outskirts of the city since 2014 - but they could not believe that it had come to their flats. Olesya's management did not immediately express concern, and before it became "unbearable", she managed to work three more shifts.
Her daughter Karian got her bearings faster: she bought a ticket for the evacuation train to Odessa on March 3rd. But she missed it - there was a tantrum. Then she had to sleep in the basement, because the city began to be bombed hardly. “The shelves were empty, there was a queue for several kilometers to the store, snipers were sitting right on the roof of the hostel, and I took a new ticket,” says Karina. The girl reached the border with Moldova, crossed it and met with Moldovan relatives.
Olesya did not know what happened to Karina and where she was: there was no mobile connection in Mariupol. On March 11, when she and her husband came out to get some water, they heard the rumble of an airplane. They immediately fell to the ground in fear that the bomb would fall either on their house or on their grandmother's house. “The neighbor was killed, the school was razed to the ground nearby, the corpses are just lying on the street. Quietly, as if you are walking through a cemetery, ”recalls Olesya.
Eventually Olesya fled the city from the second attempt through humanitarian corridor to Berdyansk. Her husband stayed. There Olesya met her older sister, who left Mariupol a day later. For five days they lived at the bus station - there was nowhere to go and no one to go to. “I remember a line of buses with the inscription “People”. These buses stood in a traffic jam for a day,” says Olesya.
In Moldova, not far from the town of Soroca, mother and daughter were sheltered by their distant relatives - 52-year-old Olimpiada and 58-year-old Vladimir. Their adult children have parted, the spouses grow grapes and harvest honey - for themselves, not for sale. Both admit that they did not think even a minute to help or not. “Of course to help! I worked in the police, fought in Transnistria, I carry fragments of bomb in me. I know the horrors of war. I had a fixed idea - to get them out of there. We have everything, stocks of potatoes, we will not leave them hungry. I look at Karina - now she is cheerful, but what happened when we met her! Horror in the eyes.” Vladimir shares.
But Karina and her mother dream of returning home - even to the ruins. “It’s terrible to lose everything,” says Olesya. — Karina studied to become an international lawyer, I had a stable job at the factory. Where is it all now? The factory no longer exists. And the house, most likely, is destroyed."
Karina and Olesua help Olimpiada to pour honey into jars.
"Reality or not?" Katya and Marusya (Odessa, Ukraine), Kolya (Floreni, Moldova).
A month ago, six-year-old Marusya stopped sleeping at night: she began to have tantrums. Then her mother Katya, a 26-year-old Ukrainian language teacher, took her away from Odessa from “endless sirens and shooting.”
At first, Katya hesitated: she packed and unpacked her suitcases several times, but in the end her husband insisted - he offered to leave for at least a couple of weeks. With two bags and a child, Katya went nowhere: she traveled for a day to the border with Moldova, where she had never been, despite the proximity - only 60 kilometers. In the very first hotel, a man who introduced himself as Vanya approached her and her daughter and said that Ukrainians "just need to be burned." Katya immediately called a taxi.
Through volunteers, she found an Orthodox large family that agreed to accept them. For about a week, Katya and Marusya huddled in the same room with their three children - "conscience did not allow them to stay there longer." In the next volunteer family, disputes began with the pro-Russian relatives of the hosts. They had to leave from there too. Finally, Katya was connected with 27-year-old Kolya from the village of Floreny near Chisinau.
A young man, temporarily unemployed, feels uncomfortable in front of the lens. “Of course, it is difficult to accept strangers into your home. This is my first experience in hosting somebody, but I did not want to left them behind. This is a fairly simple choice - you just need to put yourself in the place of these people. In principle, we don’t have any problems: we smoked a cigarette, drank tea and coffee, played with Marusya, and then everyone went about their own business. It's simple," he says.
Katya admits that it is difficult to feel helpless and live in anticipation of returning home. “We love our country, we are patriots to the core and we want to go back. From the news, at first there was a stupor: you just sit stupidly, look at the wall and cannot believe: is this a reality or not? When you find out that the children you taught are dying there, it’s scary,” she says.
The only thing that calms her down is that Marusya falls asleep again at night.
“I couldn’t sleep, I thought what I could do for these people” Edita (Kyiv, Ukraine), Igor (Floreni, Moldova).
Neither friends, nor relatives, nor acquaintances of 54-year-old Edita from Kiev believed that the war would begin. Even if something happens, it will not reach Kyiv. But in February, she was awakened by explosions.
“I immediately packed my things, threw the essentials into my backpack, got into the car and drove off. Everyone was crammed into the car like herrings in a barrel - I also took my neighbors, they really asked, I could not refuse. In the Vinnitsa region, planes circled above us, we heard explosions. You drive and think that you are about to die – everything is so loud and close, but still it’s like you are looking at everything from the side, like in a Netflix movie,” she recalls her way to Moldova.
The woman looks at the phone - there is another news with victims and explosions. “And so every day passes, in the hope of some kind of light, but it is not visible yet. Worse and worse. I sit on the phone all day long, it’s very difficult to get distracted, despite the fact that Igor is trying to entertain me, almost dancing with a tambourine, ”says Edita and begins to sob.
Igor, a 40-year-old resident of the Moldovan village of Floreny, is a former military man, geologist, and now a social entrepreneur who accepts not only refugees, but also volunteers. He is a local celebrity: a famous actor, UN Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom recently visited his house. “I just can’t stay away. Believe me, I couldn’t even fall asleep, I thought what I could do for these people. I began to make wooden toys for Ukrainian children, puzzle cards of Ukraine. And, of course, I receive guests at my home,” he says.
Igor also helps Edita with documents for emigration to North America. “It is not safe in Kyiv, everything changes very quickly, who knows what will happen tomorrow. I do not rule out that I will have to move to another place, because even if the war ends, it will be very difficult to live in Ukraine. I have already lost my job, in Kyiv I was an electrical communications designer with twenty years of experience. Yes, and relatives do not hold me - I'm alone. Although this choice is still not easy. It just hurts. It was like being stabbed with a knife,” says Edita.
“Mom has been through this before.” Veronica, Galina Anatolyevna, Yarik and Danya (Odessa, Ukraine), Nastya, Larisa (Strasheni, Moldova).
34-year-old Veronika from Odessa collected suitcases with documents and medicines on February 24th. But she remained in the city until the last - until all the shops were closed. She is a seamstress. Then she and her husband sat down at the table and decided: together with her 58-year-old mother and sons Yarik and Danya, they would take the Odessa-Chisinau minibus.
“We just wanted a simple safety. Every day to wake up in the morning from a siren, run to the basement… An explosion – and you don’t even understand where it is, your house, not yours, it will hit, it won’t hit… The psyche can’t stand it, ”says the woman.
At the border, they were fed and offered to take a bus to Romania, but Veronica refused, hoping to return as soon as possible. Then they were sent to a hostel, and then to 33-year-old eco-activist Anastasia from the village of Strasheny.
Nastya lives with her mother and cat, paints and grows plums in the garden. “Mom already went through this during the war in Transnistria, when she also received refugees. Even now I have goosebumps from this feeling, which I felt on the eve of the beginning of war - I saw it in a nightmare. The whole first week of the war was like this: a terrible daily anxiety that we could lose our home too. I cried all day,” says Nastya.
As far as boys are concerned - they take everything as a journey and ask for more trips, Veronica says. But it's very hard for her. “I have anxiety and depression. I can not sleep. I can't help but think about it, about the fact that I'm suffering, about the fact that I can't work, that my husband stayed there. This feeling of guilt hangs like a stone and intensifies when you read the Odessa news feed,” she says.
"We can understand their pain" Lyuda, Verochka (Odessa, Ukraine), Nina (Gura Bicului, Moldova).
32-year-old Luda has always dreamed of traveling, and a trip to the small Moldovan village of Gura Bicului was the first trip abroad for her and her three-year-old daughter Vera. But it was forced. My husband forced me to leave Odessa - for the sake of the child's safety. “So we ended up here,” Luda says.
In Gura Bicului, they were received by 54-year-old Nina, one of the last indigenous women left to work on the land, grow vegetables and grapes. She left her contacts to the volunteers. At five in the morning, an unfamiliar woman called her and said that she was heading to her. It was a relative of Luda. She herself went further to Germany, and Luda and her daughter stayed with Nina.
At first, Nina was worried that they would not get along. But she herself became much calmer. “At night, I can't sleep alone: after the death of my son [in a car accident], I turn on the light all the time. And with the arrival of Luda, she began to sleep, she shares. “When my son was still small, [during the 1992 Transnistrian conflict] we hid in basements. During the day, the military came into our house, and we ourselves could only get there at night. We are on the border with Transnistria and we can understand the pain of the people at war."
Luda helps Nina around the house when she goes to the garden: she does laundry, cleans, feeds poultry. She also teaches the hostess how to use the Internet: the woman installed a router, bought a tablet, and for the first time had a video call with her grandson, whom she had not seen for three years.
“To be honest, I really like Gura Bicului. I would like to move here to live after the war. My husband comes from a village, so this life will not be new to him. I understand that I will have to work hard, but I like it,” she says.
On February 24, Svetlana, a 39-year-old pharmacist from Odessa, woke up from an explosion. I ran out into the street with the dog Archie - there was smoke on the horizon. Messages appeared in the telegram that the war began. She remembers endless lines on the street at ATMs and pharmacies.
Relatives insisted that Sveta had to leave, but she refused, she was afraid of losing her job. But on March 26, when she went to her parents for dinner and heard explosions during it, something broke inside. She phoned her sister Olga and together with Olga's daughter they reached Chisinau.
“Ukraine is our neighbors, I have many friends there, and when all this was brewed, they started calling, asking various everyday questions - how to get there, where to live, who to ask for help. Then I realized that I was ready to accept people, although I live alone - probably, someone would be scared. The girls were recommended to me by my friend Yulia, also a volunteer, she already had experience - people from Kherson came to her,” says 32-year-old resident of Chisinau Katya, who decided to shelter them. Katya was waiting for Svetlana, Olga and Lisa "almost with a mattress and pillows in her hands": she did not know what to offer and how to do it delicately. I took "some things - sweaters, T-shirts, jackets." When the Ukrainians saw this, they burst into tears.
For the first half a month after their arrival in Moldova, the women from Odessa could not talk normally, because they felt nothing but pain: they were only reading news, in tears. “This news is unbearable - when acquaintances are killed, when people cannot help old parents because of the bombing, when children die. I am 48 years old, I have lived in Odessa all my life, no one has ever reproached me for the Russian language,” says Olga. Svetlana adds: “We are waiting for everything to calm down. We do not want to lead the life of refugees. Thank you for taking us in, but home is home.”
"Tomorrow Will Be Tomorrow" Lena, Georgiy and their five children (Kyiv, Ukraine), Anna (Gura Bicului, Moldova).
Lena, 38, and Georgiy, 35, a former owner of a small phone repair business in Kyiv, have five children. When the city began to be bombed, Georgiy was at work. Lena and her children hid in a bomb shelter, but this place frightened them more than the sounds of explosions in the street. The family never returned there.
“There was simply no strength to run away every time: the siren howled too often, every hour and a half. The children waited in the corridor, and I looked out the window for rockets. This is the scariest thing, this is what I remember from childhood. I am from Moldova, I was born in the village of Gura Bicului on the border with Transnistria and during the war I lived in the hottest spot, I was ten years old then. My father took my sister and me to the basement, where we also hid from rockets. All this is painfully familiar, ”says Lena.
There was a military factory near their house. Apparently, Russians were aiming there, but they hit a neighboring residential building - they demolished the roof. Then the family moved from the center to Lena's parents: nine of them lived in a one-room apartment, with a bedridden dad. Georgiy worked to the last, but when it became unsafe to go to work, he locked the premises. The last time he got out to the center was to donate blood for the victims. Soon there was nothing to feed the children: the business closed, the store shelves were empty.
Georgiy decided to send his wife and children to Moldova, and was planning to enroll in the army to defend his land. Lena was in despair, she could not convince her husband: “He just had glass eyes, impenetrable.” But Georgiy was not taken due to the quantity if children in his family he had to raise. So he followed his wife. He was allowed to cross the border in a car marked “Children” (later, men under 60 were forbidden to leave Ukraine).
In Lena's native village, the refugees were met by her elder sister Anna. She herself has two children, but two families could fit under one roof. They laugh that "the game console saved us - children are busy playing all the time." “We survived it all, we cried together, and tomorrow will be tomorrow,” says Anna.