They come with what little they can carry. A trolley, a backpack, plastic bags. An old woman with a walker, a young woman with her dog on a leash. Mothers with their children, bundled up in thick winter jackets, hats and gloves, clinging to stuffed animals half desperate, half relieved. For them, Palanca means security. But also to leave home behind. Palanca is the border crossing from Ukraine to Moldova, in the southeast of the country. It is 50 kilometers from Odessa, the Black Sea metropolis. The war is not far from there.
Annalena Baerbock reaches down, picks up a toy car that a little boy has dropped off the floor, and shoves it into her hand. The green federal chancellor, 41 years old and her mother herself, came to get an idea of the refugee situation and the situation at the border. Moldovan border police chief Rosian Vasiloi guides them through the crossing. Pedestrians are on the right waiting for their passports to be stamped, while cars are in the other row on the left.
A woman with blonde hair pulled back in a bun and dressed in a pink lounge suit rummages through her trunk while the two children, ages 4 and 12, sit in the backseat. “We got in the car with what we were wearing,” she says almost apologetically to Baerbock in his red coat. “I also have two sons the same age,” Baerbock replies. “I have great admiration for her.” The woman wants to continue from Moldova to Poland. Her brother did it there. “And then to Portugal, where I have a sister,” she says. They came from Sumy, more than 800 kilometers away, in the north, on the border with Russia. There was heavy fighting there.
Thousands of refugees arrive in Palanca every day
“Four to five thousand people come here every day,” says Vasiloi. There were already 11,000 or 12,000. Only a few men are seen, they are not allowed to leave Ukraine if they are of military age. “Right now, most of the refugees are from the Cherson and Mariupol regions,” explains Vasiloi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have already invaded there with artillery, rocket and air strikes. Nor do they spare residential areas, even hospitals are bombed.
It’s still relatively quiet around Odessa, and about 500 people cross the border every day. However, if the fighting reaches Ukraine’s most important port, they must number in the hundreds of thousands here in Palanca. But Moldova is already on the verge of capacity. The drive from the capital Chisinau passes through fields, orchards and vineyards. Agriculture was what Moscow had destined for the then republic in Soviet times. Many of the modest houses in the country do not have heating or sewage, the shower and toilet are outside. Moldova is now one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an economic output lower than that of Malta.
However: “Our country’s borders are open for those fleeing war,” Foreign Minister Nicolae Popescu said in Chisinau the morning after his meeting with Baerbock, “even if resources are very limited.” So far, his country has taken in 300,000 refugees, of whom about a third are still in the country. Most were “accommodated in the houses of our fellow citizens”, not in camps. “You have to imagine what it means to host a family in your own two- or three-bedroom apartment,” Baerbock said: providing food, electricity, doing laundry, taking care of children other than your own, who may also be traumatized.
Much of Moldova’s imports and exports passed through Odessa
According to Popescu, the war itself is much more of a burden on his country than the refugees from Ukraine. Both the economy and the state budget suffered from deteriorating trade relations. Until now, the country has processed much of its imports and exports through Odessa. The connections are now broken. If Russian troops take the city or the port is damaged in the fighting, this would have serious long-term consequences for Moldova; the country does not have its own access to the sea.
The uncertainty affects the willingness of foreign investors to get involved in Moldova; at times, many here fear that their country could be Putin’s next target. Russian soldiers are stationed in the breakaway region of Transnistria, dubbed a peacekeeping force by the Kremlin, and Moscow has issued tens of thousands of passports there. While investments fall, costs rise: for border security and the processing of the many entries, but also for health and education systems. “Our population has grown by four percent in two weeks,” says Popescu. To ensure stability, his country needs more international support.
Baerbock points out that the country, with a population of 2.5 million, has to bear the heaviest burden of all Ukraine’s neighbors relative to its size and economic power. There must be discussions in the circles of the EU and the G7 countries about concrete solutions and the admission of refugees. When she is asked about an airlift, the minister says that she thinks it is “absolutely sensible” and adds: “also on the other side of the Atlantic”.
Baerbock: Germany welcomes 2,500 refugees from Moldova
Baerbock announced that Germany would take in 2,500 Ukrainian refugees from Moldova. Now a so-called green corridor is being created through Romania to bring people to the Federal Republic, mainly by bus. “But that can only be the beginning,” she says. It is about “helping in a very pragmatic and fast way”. The refugees would have to be quickly removed from the border areas.
According to Baerbock, a total of 110,000 Ukrainians have been accepted into Germany so far. Initially, many people came or were picked up by car, but now more and more families arrive in the neighboring countries of Ukraine who are traumatized by the events of the war, who do not know where to go and who cannot get there. on your own. This applies not only to Moldova, but also to the other neighboring countries of Ukraine.
Moldova must be helped first because of the tense economic and humanitarian situation. The private recording capacity is exhausted and cannot be maintained for months. The EU has promised five million euros to the country and the federal government another three million. So far, 37 million euros have been allocated to Moldova in the federal budget for regular development cooperation. The Federal Agency for Technical Aid provides urgently needed sleeping bags, folding beds, heated tents and mattresses to accommodate people when temperatures drop below freezing.
One of the blue articulated trucks is parked at the exhibition center in the capital Chisinau. The journey from Göppingen through Austria, Hungary and Romania by articulated lorry took three days, the two drivers told the Foreign Minister, before heading towards the border. The city administration has established a reception center for refugees here. Arrivals are registered, there is an infirmary, a vaccination bus. White screens have been erected in one of the corridors. Behind: a bed and a chest of drawers and the few things that people were able to take with them. The neighbors have covered the entrance to the numbered boxes with cloths. It is the only privacy they have. There are 920 beds in this ward, says Mayor Ion Ceban. Mothers with children, the elderly and people with special needs come here mainly.
Baerbock sits at a blue plastic table in the hall, some children are sitting there. Drawings hang on the walls. He brought drawing pads, pencils, and paint boxes of watercolors. And dominoes. “You can take this later when you do math,” Baerbock tells a girl who has braided her dark hair. Children play school. A bit of everyday life after a day’s escape. It is one of the many moments that day when Baerbock should have thought of his daughters.