In Moldova, a Ukrainian refugee describes her life after fleeing Odessa

  • Nearly 100,000 Ukrainians have settled in neighboring Moldova since the start of the war.
  • Moldova had a labor shortage before the war, with companies keen to hire refugees.
  • A Ukrainian woman told Insider about her life in the country and why she is working so hard to get home.

CHISINAU, Moldova – Polina Botya fled Odessa the same day Russia began bombing Ukraine.

A refugee in the capital of Moldova, she now lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with her father, her sister, her sister’s husband and child. She said she loved this country which she had never visited before the war – most people here also speak Russian – but she can’t wait to get home. Like most Ukrainian refugees, she expects it.

“It’s a bit pricey, but if you came here on your own, it would be a good country to live in,” she said of her adopted nation, now home to almost 100,000 people. like her, during a coffee break. where she works 12 hours a day, four days a week. When she’s not making espresso, 18-year-old Botya usually works at an upscale flower shop down the street.

“Overall it’s okay,” she said. Most people are welcoming, even though she doesn’t speak Romanian, the official language of this bilingual country.

There were some uncomfortable moments, however. At first, she went to a center that distributed food to refugees. “You have an expensive phone,” she told a person who worked there. “Why not just sell it and buy food? »

If Botya has another complaint, it’s about her own country and how the media there are, she says, spreading too much “hate speech”, too often failing to distinguish between the Russian people and their government.

“I work with a few Russians here,” she said, “and I don’t hate them.”

coffee line

People wait to order at Poetry Coffeeshop in Chisinau, Moldova.

Charles Davis/Insider

Working 70 hours a week in service jobs in a foreign country is not what she planned for her life three months ago.

Back in the port city where she was born, Botya was at university studying biology. Still, it’s better to hang around the apartment and worry about her grandparents and her mother who are still in Odessa, who don’t want to give up their house (they couldn’t come anyway: ” There would be no place to sleep.”)

“I wanted to go back for Easter,” Botya said, but she had to work. “I can’t take too many days off,” she explained. Besides, “It’s still risky.”

The day after his conversation with Insider, a Russian attack on a residential building in Odessa, just an hour’s drive from the Moldovan border, left eight people dead.

Yet, that’s where she wants to be. That she might not be able to go back is not a thought she entertains. That’s why she works, finds a job two weeks after her arrival, waits in line for half a day at the immigration office to get the identification number she needs to do so legally. She started working at the cafe a day after her interview.

It is to prepare for a future life that is not in Moldova – and which is far from guaranteed.

“When I come back, I will need money to live on for a while, because I don’t have a job planned in Odessa,” she said.

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