A nightmare in Ukraine opens Romanian hearts
Jesuit Mission CEO Helen Forde reflects on her recent experience of meeting Tamara, a Ukrainian refugee living in Bucharest, Romania.
It bubbles below the surface. It doesn’t take much to rise and overwhelm.
The pain and grief of war in this present day is beyond comprehension. Many believed the war would last just days or a few weeks and they would return home.
But, more than 12 months on, there is no end in sight to the devastation that plagues Ukraine.
On 20 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since the invasion, more than eight million people have fled Ukraine in search of safe and war free surroundings and an additional eight million people became displaced within the country.
It’s the most devastating event in Europe since World War II.
3.5 million Ukrainians have passed through Romania. Yet only, 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, mostly women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities remain in Romania today. Their trauma of escaping the current war and conflict is now deeply etched in their psyche.
They remain separated from husbands, fathers, brothers and male family members. They long to be reunited and yearn to return to their home with peace. When, nobody knows?
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Romania, as part of the JRS Europe and Xavier Network humanitarian response, has assisted 10,000 Ukrainians with accommodation, cash, vouchers for food, psycho-social support, counselling, classes, medicine and activities that build skills, resilience and friendship. JRS Romania has offered more than 40,000 services to the Ukrainian community since the war started.
66 year-old Ukrainian woman, Tamara describes the experience as a ‘horrible fairy tale’. She escaped Ukraine with several family members - all of whom have since returned to Ukraine. Tamara remains alone in Bucharest now.
Tamara’s three adult children are in Ukraine. One of her sons is in the army – causing much anxiety and pain. Yet Tamara affirms they are presently all safe and well.
Tamara’s children believe Romania is a necessary safe haven for their mother. They fear their mother returning to Ukraine and living in her 16th floor Kyiv apartment, where there is only one hour of electricity each day. No hot water, no lifts, no heating … unimaginable circumstances before the war began.
Tamara constantly wrestles with returning to Ukraine. The heartbreaking sadness of life without her family is witnessed in her face and demeanour.
Her disposition rouses when she raises her love of kangaroos.
“Is it true that there are five kangaroos for every person in Australia?" she asks curiously.
I laugh not really knowing the answer. Postscript: I educated myself – there are around two kangaroos per person in Australia.
Tamara has a temporary protection permit. She receives support from the government (through the European Commission) which offers her financial assistance for rental accommodation. JRS Romania provides much needed counselling and socialisation through a range of activities like art therapy, meditation and stretch classes.
“Life is harder for older people here," says Tamara.
A nanny in her working life, Tamara now assists two Ukrainian families in Bucharest to help her pass the days and feel connected in relationship. Tamara is thankful to the Romanian community who have opened their arms and welcomed people like her to their country.
“They (JRS Romania) help me with everything and provide protection and friendship," says Tamara smiling.
JRS Romania has set up a Viber group for the older Ukrainians living in Bucharest. This group builds relationships, creates community and promotes connectedness.
Tamara touches her heart when referring to the Jesuit Mission supporters who have supported JRS Romania.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you," Tamara gently concludes.
Jesuit Mission supporters have generously donated more than $1 million for the Ukraine crisis. We remain deeply grateful for the outpouring of love, compassion and solidarity of our Australian family of supporters and friends.