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Photos: Refugees Escape From Ukraine to Moldova

Fleeing conflict triggers the most horrifying of games of chance: Are you on the “right” side of a border when fighting erupts? Are you able to flee a city under siege in the brief moments when bombs are not being dropped? Do the people in your new, ostensibly temporary home have the wherewithal to support you as you find your feet?

Questions and uncertainties do not end once you enter a place—a new city, a new country—that is safe from the violence. Instead, new ones emerge, and you must hope for the best.

sandbags on a statue
A monument to the Duke of Richelieu in Odessa is covered with sandbags to protect it from possible destruction. If Russian forces can take the city, then they could cut off Ukraine from the sea, which is why it is one of the main targets for the Russian offensive. War analysts predict that Russian troops seek to encircle Odessa by advancing from the nearby region of Mykolaiv, where shelling has intensified in recent days.

According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, more than 4 million people have undertaken this game of chance as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The majority are in neighboring countries—mostly Poland, but also Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. (Among this overall number are more than 300,000 who fled to Russia and Belarus.)

Of these, Moldova is the smallest and, in many ways, the most vulnerable. The country has barely more residents than does Queens, in New York City, and, like Ukraine, part of its territory is claimed and occupied by Russia. Yet it has also been remarkably welcoming, taking in nearly 400,000 people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, a figure equivalent to about 15 percent of its entire population.

Yet those crossing into Moldova—like displaced people everywhere—have wildly varying experiences. Over the course of seven days in Moldova, and at the country’s border with Ukraine, the photographer Moises Saman cataloged those differences, capturing images of the Jewish woman who, helped by international Jewish organizations, is bound for Israel; the Ukrainians lumped together in a community home in a village near the border; and finally the Ukrainian Roma who have found that discrimination has followed them.

All have found a measure of safety, yet that is where the similarities in their stories end.


A woman stands in front of a suitcase.

“I can feel the house terribly shaking … I am scared in the most terrible way.”

Tetyana Anbinder, 73, a recently widowed Jewish resident of Mykolaiv, stands in her small apartment as she packs her luggage on the eve of her evacuation to Moldova. With the support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an international network of Jewish organizations facilitating the evacuation of Ukrainian Jews, she is bound for Israel.

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Old photographs and mementos in Tetyana’s apartment on the eve of her evacuation from Mykolaiv, a blockaded town 130 kilometers east of Odessa that has been targeted by intense Russian bombing
Woman a kitchen table with her head in her hands
Tetyana the night before she leaves for the border
people with suitcases leaving an apt building
Members of Mykolaiv’s Jewish community gathered at a local synagogue prepare to board evacuation buses out of the city. To date, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has evacuated more than 10,000 Jews fleeing towns and cities under fire, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv, organizing caravans to make the days-long journey to Moldova and bring them to safety. Once there, they are provided food, medical care, accommodation, psychosocial support, and connections to local Jewish community.
car packed with people driving with a field behind it.
A family riding in a car waits to pass a Ukrainian army checkpoint near the border town of Mayaki, en route to the Palanca border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova.
A man hugs a child.

Children make up half of all refugees from the war in Ukraine, according to UNICEF and UNHCR.

Ukrainian men escort their female relatives to the last Ukrainian army checkpoint before the Palanca border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova.

“I have never thought in my life I would be hiding in basements or fleeing away from my homeland … I can’t honestly recognize how this could have happened in the 21st century and the world came to something like this.”

A woman holds a cat and an arm reaches in to pet it.

Imilia, 17, from the city of Mykolaiv, holds her cat Tynich as she waits next to the last Ukrainian army checkpoint before the Palanca border crossing with Moldova.

a girls back to camera stands in a field
A young Ukrainian girl traveling with her mother to the Palanca border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova stands next to a piece of luggage at a collecting point past the last Ukrainian army checkpoint before the border crossing. According to UN data, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created one of the biggest refugee crises of modern times. A month into the war, more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries.
boy outside of a house with laundry hanging
Constantin, 12, a Ukrainian refugee, in the yard of a country house that is now home to several Ukrainian refugee families in the Moldovan village of Răscăieții Noi, near the border with Ukraine
a man serves food at a table with kids
The home, a summer-camp lodge before the war, is managed by Andrei Vozian, a Moldovan man who opened up the house to Ukrainian refugees soon after the war started. With help from donations from abroad, Andrei is able to provide the families with food and a free place to stay as they figure out what their next move will be.
Roman Agakov, the only Ukrainian man in the house, was able to leave Ukraine in the first days of the invasion, before the government implemented the ban on fighting-age men leaving the country. He decided not to return, and stayed with his wife and child; they all live in the house together and hope to move on to Germany or Poland to work.
A mother hugs her son on a bed.

“I don’t even know how to describe those feelings—just emptiness, as if you had died, but for the sake of the child, you need to find strength and live.”

Elena Nechepurenko, 28, holds her 5-year-old son Serghei in the bedroom that they share with three other refugee families. Elena fled her village in Odessa province, while her husband stayed behind and joined the Ukrainian army. Elena and her son arrived in Moldova on February 25, and they plan to stay in this village near the border until it is safe for them to return to Ukraine.

boys on stairs look at camera
Ten-year-old Bogdan (left), 7-year-old Rotislav (center), and 2-year-old Vladislav are Ukrainian children who fled the war with their respective mothers and are now living together in a home housing several Ukrainian refugee families in the Moldovan village of Răscăieții Noi, near the border with Ukraine.
a woman walks past a dilapidated building
Old Soviet buildings in central Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. The majority of the Soviet architectural legacy in Moldova remains in a dilapidated state, and hardly anyone cares about preserving the buildings.
woman alone in center of gym
Hundreds of Ukraine’s Roma people who fled the war are living in difficult conditions inside the Manej Sport Arena in Moldova’s capital, Chișinău. The majority of them have been stuck in Moldova, unable to travel onward to other European destinations because most of them are undocumented or lost their papers during the war.
Women getting food tktktk
Ukrainian Roma families receive meals inside the Manej Sport Arena. The meals are provided by World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization devoted to providing meals amid conflict and after natural disasters.

“What should I do—go back in the war?”

A woman sitting in a cardboard makeshift bed with a child behind her.

Maria Todorovich, 41, an ethnic Roma from Donetsk, fled Ukraine with her children more than two weeks ago. She is one of hundreds of Roma living in the Manej Sport Arena in Chișinău. Maria’s passport was damaged during the rush to flee her home, and she is now unable to leave Moldova until new travel documents are issued. She tried several times to get a Ukrainian passport that would let her and her four children leave Moldova for Germany, where Maria has relatives. The only evidence of her Ukrainian identity are ripped-up documents showing her photograph and the names of all her kids.

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According to volunteers working in the Manej Sport Arena, Moldova’s authorities decided to separate Roma refugees from ethnic Ukrainians, out of linguistic, cultural, and logistical considerations and in an attempt to prevent tensions between the two ethnicities and better provide for their specific needs.
A young girl plays.

“This is not right when families are separated … It is almost impossible to calm down and relax.”

A young girl plays in the gymnasium of the Kishinev Jewish Campus, in Chișinău, Moldova. Their journey out of Ukraine was facilitated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an international network of Jewish organizations. Once in Moldova, they are provided food, medical care, accommodation, psychosocial support, and connections to local Jewish community.
kids gym
A few dozen Ukrainian Jewish families who were evacuated from southern Ukraine are living in the gym at the Kishinev Jewish Campus, in Chișinău. Nadejda Tcachuk (center, back) came from Kharkiv with her daughter, Sophia, and her son, Grisha. “Everything started on 25th of February at 5 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “We woke up because of the weird loud sounds. Someone called my husband and said that the war started. One week we lived in Kharkiv, two days in the basement, but that was very difficult, everyone crying. Thus we decided to stay home, as we were living on the first floor. One week we lived together with our kids in the hall of our store, at a safer distance from the windows. Then we moved to Oleksandriya, later to Vinnytsia. But because of the risk, and of the siren and stress, we decided to go abroad. We arrived in Moldova, directly in this center, on the 17th of March. We want to go to Israel with the aid of the Jewish organization.”
statue
A granite bust of Georgi Dimitrov, the former Bulgarian Communist leader, stands next to one of the last remaining public statues of Lenin left in Chișinău.



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