I am a freelance photographer and visual artist working with National Geographic Russia, VICE UK/USA, De Volkskrant, Takie Dela, Meduza, Novaya Gazeta, others. My photographic practice primarily focuses on the exploration of the issues of modern...
Moldova is a small country located in Southeastern Europe. The region has a very complex history and its own problems, but despite this, since the beginning of the Russian invasion to Ukraine, this small state has been accepting refugees who are fleeing from bombing and death.
Since February 24, 325,000 people from Ukraine have arrived in the country according to the UNHCR estimates. Most of them use the country as a transit in order to get to Europe but about 96 thousand of people remain in the country at the moment. 93% of the refugees are women with children, pets and hopes to return to their home, where they left their household, business and relatives.
The path of Ukrainian refugees on the territory of Moldova begins at the Palanka checkpoint. Customs officers meet people, check passports and let them into the republic. At the moment, about a thousand people a day cross the border. Near the refugee checkpoint, buses are waiting to take people to a small camp where you can have a bite to eat, drink tea, warm up and exhale - here people are safe and can no longer be afraid for the lives of their children. After several hours of waiting – the time depends on how quickly the bus fills up – the refugees leave for different points – mainly Bucharest – for those who want to leave for the EU or temporary accommodation points in Moldova.
The largest and most active accommodation center in Chisinau is Moldexpo, an exhibition complex converted into a covidarium, which is now occupied by refugees from Ukraine. The turnover here is incredible. Basically, this point is used as a transit link to spend the night or a couple of days before going to more comfortable conditions - to relatives or to other temporary accommodation points located in a wide variety of places throughout the country - in hospitals, sanatoriums transformed for the needs of the Ukrainians. Such points are serviced by locals for minimal money, or on a volunteer basis. Very often, the volunteers are the refugees themselves, who cannot sit idle and are eager to help other people.
It is worth noting that the conditions in Moexpo are rather ascetic, but people endure and do not complain - they say, everything is better than living under bombs.
“There were talks about the war, but no one believed until the end that it could start. Somewhere there was a bang a week ago, you think it's still far away, you sit quietly, hoping that everything will work out. But the last time the bomd landed too close. We also have an apartment building - it takes a long time to go down to the basement. It became terrifying. We discussed it and decided to leave. The suitcases were already packed. We grabbed them and ran. Yuri served in Moldova, in Balti, we had an idea about the neighboring country. Now we really want to go home, we talk about it all the time, sometimes we don’t sleep at night, follow the news. Our parents stayed there. At the last moment, they refused to go, although we wanted to pick them up.”
“In the morning, in the evening, air defense worked without a break. My brother began to cry a lot and it went on for days and nights. We live near a military airport and, apparently, Russian army were especially aiming there. Everything was shaking, glass, floor. When we saw the explosion with our own eyes, we realized that everything could end badly. It was more frightening for the little brother. My mother and I quickly packed up and got into a taxi. My father is a sailor, he is on a voyage and now he is safe, when he returns from the sea, he will come to us. Together we will wait until everything calms down. In Odessa, I still have a fiancé, he is a military man, studying at the military academy, for a lieutenant, 3rd year. I hope he's all right."
“Sirens were screaming, gunshots were loudly audible. We didn't sleep for several nights. We don't have a basement to hide in, and a rocket doesn't choose which house to hit. I decided to leave because of the children - Arina and David. I don't worry too much about my life. When we drove to the border with my husband, we roared all the way, my daughter was hysterical. We were going nowhere - we had never been to Moldova before, we didn’t know anything where we would stop but we took risks. My husband took us to Palanka and came back, stayed at home, as well as my brother and mother-in-law and many more relatives. We are very worried about them. We really want to go home, that's the only way. As long as our house stands still, we have somewhere to go."
“We have been here since March 6. We did not even think about leaving until the siren started to sound at night, at 2-3 am. Our parents stayed, they are afraid of looters and do not want to leave the apartment. I understand that I will not be able to return soon, but it does not matter - the main thing is to return. We decided to sit here, in Moldova, closer to home, we don't even want to think about migrating to Europe. To be honest, I still can't believe it. Everyone had things to do, work, school, everyone was busy, and here it is. I worked in the sewing industry, as a knitter, Alenka studied. I want to return to the old rhythm of life, to hurry somewhere. Alyonka is crying all the time, she worries about her relatives, but it’s good that there is at least a connection with parents. They hold on, we call each other, they say that prices have risen, people are buying everything. ”
“We made the final decision to go after the governor was changed in our city. From ordinary, mundane to military. Also, we were scared by the Russian ships in the Black Sea. And most importantly, the children slept in the hallway for the last week. We made the decision because of them, prepared documents, sorted things. Threw it in the trunk and off we went. Since we have an electric car, the journey took a little longer than if we had a conventional one. We spent the night in Belyaevka - charging it. Near Palanka we were stuck in a traffic jam for 24 hours. It is good that the children took a player with headphones so that they could listen to fairy tales. We lived in a hostel for a couple of days. I remember how I went to the shower, something fell in the corridor, I'm not an impressionable person, but for half a second I thought it was a shot. Still, there is some trauma. A few days later we moved to this point. We plan to go back if the situation allows, but this is at least 2-3 years, because there will be no infrastructure back at home. It is still necessary to work in migration, I would not want to sit on the neck of the states of different countries. In Odessa, we were engaged in the production of craft ice cream, unfortunately we had to leave all the equipment at home due to difficulties with customs. Before leaving, we posted to a group of ice cream enthusiasts from all over the world that we were leaving, people from Austria, Germany, Ireland responded and offered us a job with accommodation. We decided to choose Ireland, as we realized that the influx of Ukrainians would be high in other countries and it would be better to move away to be able to work.”
“We hid in the basement for several days before leaving. Once every three days we went to the apartment early in the morning to take a quick shower and cook something, after that we ran back. I remember how I sealed the windows in the apartment so that they would not fall out from the blast wave. Our district suffered greatly, the neighboring high-rise building burned down - all 7 floors, the roof collapsed. Perhaps this was the reason for the departure. We realized that it would only get worse. In addition, my father called, he lives in the region in Tsirkuny with a new family. He said that his house was destroyed, everything burned down, all the pets were killed, and they are sitting in the neighbors' basement. We packed in an hour and ran away, took the essentials: books, a bag of clothes, toothbrushes, a bear that my boyfriend gave me, and Suleiman the cat - I prepared a carrier for him the day before. We took all the food from the basement, because we didn’t understand how long it would take to get to the border. We drove for a day, spent the night in a roadside cafe. Then I roared, I realized that we were really leaving the house. In Kharkiv, I finished school and planned to enter the university as a microbiologist. I really want peace. I hope they find a compromise. I corresponded with my boyfriend, he stayed there with his family, today it was more or less quiet but who knows what wil happen tomorrow. The last few days I've been having nightmares - that I'm running away from a fire."
“We have collected all the essentials since the 24th. Then my husband laughed at me. The older children also had a backpack collected. A couple of weeks ago I saw a plane at low speed from a window right above our house, an explosion, the windows flew out, we decided to leave. It was no longer funny. Everyone thought we were protected, but somehow I doubted it. As a mother, I have no right to put my children in danger. I said goodbye to my husband for a long time, wept. The little one probably didn’t understand what was happening at all, maybe she won’t remember later - she was only a year and a half old, the elders were more worried. When we were driving, we were worried that there were so many refugees in Moldova and no one would need us here, and we had never been here before all this mess. Volunteers at the border gave me some hope, hugged me. Everything is fine."
Julia (34) with her sister and children, Uman, Kharkiv
“It was terrible there. The woman's leg was torn off, she was standing in line at the grocery store. In Uman, a man died in the center of the city - a grenade was thrown. Our husbands, of course, stayed there. They are on the defensive. We had a small business - grocery stores, there were no goods, no suppliers. It was easier to close. The move was very difficult, we drove almost a day. Lines of cars, people. There was fear, resentment, why this was happening to us, there have never been such feelings. Our mother is Russian, lives in Saratov. She does not understand what is happening, does not believe us. We do not plan to go to Europe, there are a lot of people like us, and where we will go with children on our hands. Of course, I want to believe that everything will work out, but somehow this hope remains less and less every day."
Oksana (42) with her daughter Marina (22), Nikolaev
“We remember how the civilian population began to be bombed. 7 houses were bombed in the neighborhood. Sounds of carnage, automatic bursts, it was not clear where it exploded - your house or the neighbor's. We sat in the basement for days. We wanted to get out, just leaned out and saw a jet plane. We thought it was falling on us, but no, it just flew low to blow up our vegetable base. My husband forced us to leave on March 13, tried to calm us down, saying that everything would be fine, but it was difficult. It’s a pity that I lost my job, my daughter hasn’t been laid off yet - she worked as a teacher. We pray to God to get home."
There is also a temporary accommodation facility on the territory of the Arena in Chisinau. Non-ethnic Ukrainians temporarily live here, mostly of Gypsy or Azerbaijani nationality. According to the employees of the NGO Moldova for Peace, their separate residence is not discrimination, on the contrary, it is their own desire to be live together. People in a difficult situation need peace of mind and environment that is comfortable for them.
On the territory of the complex there is a room with clothes, hot tea. Various NGOs and local gypsy communities bring medicine. Several policemen keep order.
Nadezhda (57) lives in the small village of Gura Bikului, right on the border with Transnistria. She worries about Ukraine with all her heart. "Are they going to spend the night on the street? This can happen to everyone. I also have relatives in Ukraine who, unfortunately, cannot leave. I decided to release the heated house for several families. First we accepted 3 young girls, they spent the night and drove on. I will never forget their fear in the eyes. I looked at them, and then I could not sleep all night. Now we have three families from Nikolaev, including Anna and Ruslan, they simply have nowhere to go. We are ready for the fact that it can be long and families will be replaced.” - says Nadezhda. “To be honest, I don’t really want to be photographed, because I don’t do it for photography. I will only agree if it helps put an end to this horror.”