Foster families in Moldova provide safety and protection for children fleeing conflict from Ukraine
UNICEF supported programme works with partners to identify unaccompanied/children at risk fleeing Ukraine and protects them through temporary placement with families in Moldova.
Causeni, Moldova, 1 March 2023: Alexandru smiles often when he talks about his future, and dreams of becoming an actor in Hollywood someday, but his wistful gaze tell us there’s more to his story.
“After I finished high school, I was planning to study acting at the Mykolaiv National University, but everything changed. I was sleeping and when I woke up and went to the kitchen, my mum told me the war had started. I turned on the TV and saw were being bombed,” says the 17-year-old sitting on the worn couch of his foster family in Moldova, 250 kilometers away from his home.
Alexandru’s world, along with that of millions of his compatriots was turned upside down on 24th of February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Over the next few weeks and months, as the fighting spread to different regions, millions of Ukrainians fled the country.
Alexandru’s older brothers were drafted into the Ukrainian army and sent for training, and with each passing day his parents feared for their safety and his. When one of his older brothers died in the war, his parents decided that Alexandru should leave the country.
“My father and mother put me on the bus. They knew that I would be able to take care of myself. The bus ride was long since we travelled through Odessa and then I arrived at the border crossing at Palanca in Moldova,” he says.
Alexandru met his former dance teacher on the bus, and she was travelling to Germany, so he decided to join her. When they arrived at the Moldovan border, he was warmly welcomed, but he was informed that based on Moldovan law, he wouldn’t be allowed to travel onward to a third country since he was under 18 and didn’t have a guardian.
“I thought they would send me back to Ukraine, but I was pleasantly surprised when some people from the [child protection] service approached me and were keen to support me,” he says.
The child protection specialists were from the Blue Dot centre in Palanca, a child protection hub established by UNICEF and UNHCR. The Blue Dots provide refugees from Ukraine with information, counseling, and have child-friendly spaces, hygiene, health and nutrition services. Additionally, they also monitor and identify any unaccompanied children or children at risk. Alexandru was a minor, travelling alone and extremely vulnerable.
The Blue Dot workers referred him to child protection case workers who step in to support with the wide array of children protection services that UNICEF and partners have been providing for children displaced by the conflict in Ukraine.
“At first, I thought they would put me in an institution for children, but then I learned I would stay with a family who also had their children. I was a little shy in the beginning because it was a foreign country, but soon I felt at home. They were all so nice and it felt like living with relatives,” he says smiling at Doyna, his foster mother.
Doyna’s eyes light up when she smiles, and it is easy to see why Alexandru felt right at home.
The Government of Moldova supports temporary placement of vulnerable children in foster care or family-like group homes, which is supported by UNICEF and other partners. Children like Alexandru who are fleeing the war in Ukraine, are identified and if they need, are hosted by foster families’ like Doyna’s.
“I could sense the anxiety on his face when he arrived. We talked for a little bit and then I called his mother and told her that her son was safe with me. I told her that he would live in a comfortable home and that no one would hurt him,” says Doyna.
“I miss home but I am very comfortable here. And I love Moldovan food - the polenta, the pies – I think I am eating a lot,” says Alexandru.
Currently, UNICEF is partnering with Chisinau municipality to recruit more foster parents, which will offer a family to another 100 children at risk, including refugees from Ukraine.
As he waits for the war to be over, Alexandru talks to his mother every day to assure her that he is well. He dreams of returning home and to go back to acting school to continue his dream of becoming an actor.
“I will miss the food and these wonderful people who have helped me. I am grateful not only to this family, but to the whole country for accommodating me.”
More than 750,000 refugees from Ukraine have entered Moldova for safety and protection; half of them are children. Among these children, almost 1,000 had been separated from or were unaccompanied by their parents or caregivers. With the support of UNICEF and partners, they accessed placement, legal, information, and psychological services during their stay in Moldova.
Since the beginning of the conflict, UNICEF has been one of the first responders providing support to children and their families arriving in the Republic of Moldova. This includes strengthening checks and referral mechanisms for child protection at border crossing points.
UNICEF thanks donors such as the EU Humanitarian Aid, the Government of Spain, the USA BPRM US Bureau of Population, and the United States Fund for UNICEF for their support to the Foster Care programme in Moldova.