Reporting From Moldova: A Student’s Perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian War
April 25, 2022
Felicia Iordachi is a Sophomore student at Stanford OHS who lives in Moldova. In light of the recent events in Ukraine and near Moldova, she has been kind enough to speak about her experiences with living so close to the conflict and how it has affected her life.
How has the conflict affected you?
It depends on the time period. I think that now, it doesn’t affect me that much, but the first few days were interesting to say the least. I guess it was just intense. There were no actual, direct consequences on my life or my family’s life because we were not affected by military attacks or anything of that sort. Even now, we don’t have any military [attacks] or anything of that sort, so we are not directly implicated there. But it was intense just because [the conflict] is so close. We had been hearing about a war starting there since about the beginning of January, because [my family and I] were on a trip and we discussed if the war would start and what we would do. The only thing we said back then — because we didn’t really think it would happen — was that if it starts and we [did] need to leave, we wouldn’t leave via flights, because obviously you don’t fly when there are military attacks.
So yes, the rumors started in January. Then, it didn’t affect me because people kept thinking that there were really just political tensions, which there were, but in late January we were more stressed. Everyone started to read the news constantly back then, and it was tense, but still nothing was happening. For me, at least, I was super engaged with the news and kept reading about conferences and discussions between Russia and Ukraine, but then at some point in mid-February, right before it started, I was… well, at some point I thought, “okay, war seems to be a possibility,” but before it actually started I kind of felt like it wasn’t going to happen. I was almost sure that it would not happen. Then I was going to school that morning at my brick and mortar [school], I opened the news, and it did. It started. The first instinct was to check how close it was. Moldova is bordering with Ukraine and we do have a “cold conflict,” I suppose, with Russia, and there is a territory that is a Russian-based region. It is not their territory, but it [is supportive of Russia], so we wanted to see how close it was and if they had any [attacks]. On that specific day, there were fires — missiles, I believe — in Odessa. Again, it was Moldovan territory, and it is very close (about a three-hour drive or so), but there weren’t actual armies there. They did attack the city, but not directly. Even right now, they still have not reached Odessa.
It was close, but it was still a surprise that it was that close because all the discussions were about the Donbas region and then suddenly it was all over the place. That was kind of intense because it seemed to be more than what they were talking about and what they were talking about was already bad enough. So yes, it was just tense. The first four days, specifically, were intense. Everyone — if you walked on the streets you could feel it — everyone knew what the news was. Everyone was reading the news constantly — like absolutely constantly. I remember I wasn’t getting that much schoolwork done because I was checking the news constantly.
I think the first four days were the most intense for most people because Moldova was not implicated, but it still was close, and everyone kept seeing how awful things happened to families who had lives there and since we had a lot of immigrants finding refuge in Moldova, we were witnessing this whole wave. It was very strange to observe and people did question whether they should leave the country or not. I do have friends who did leave the country, at least for a few days or so, then they came back, but others still have not come back.
People were just questioning what they should do further because there was and still is no sign — at least no official sign — that Moldova is at any risk. Logistically speaking, we can understand that it is kind of close, but there was no official argument for why Moldova would be implicated in any circumstance. So, there was no reason to leave the country, there was no reason to worry about military attacks. It is arguable. But everything was just chance.
Everyone read the news, but that was only at least what was happening at the beginning. I think with time people adjusted to it, and it is very weird because now we are pretty much back to our normal lives. For at least a week or so, no one could do their work. I had piano lessons, where [my teacher and I] just sat there for the entire lesson. We didn’t do anything. Everyone was very distracted, but I am grateful that we were only distracted and nothing more.
Now people are getting adjusted back to their normal lives which is weird, on the one hand, because you are still checking the news and seeing what is happening — it is awful, what is happening — but still you can’t do that much other than help the refugees who are here. It is that witnessing [helplessly] situation that is not pleasant, but it is there.
What are the physical conditions as well as the general mood of the area?
It depends on which time frame you are referring to. In the beginning it was very tense and everyone was aware of that. Everyone was reading the news. When you were in the cafe, just out on the street, or on public transportation, you could see people checking the news constantly. The first two to four days people were just not here presently — they were living through news sites. That took the full capacity of our brains for the most part, and everyone was aware of it. You could walk down the street and know that if someone passed by, they were aware of what was happening. You could feel it.
Again, the piano lesson was something… [laughs] but it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at all. We just stayed there. We were supposed to be working on piano songs for a [performance] that I had soon, but we weren’t working at all. My piano teacher was also very distracted. At one point, we just started discussing “what do we do?” and she was thinking of where she would go if she had to.
People weren’t discussing super openly because they were still reading things. They couldn’t discuss things because they were constantly trying to take it in. Everyone was aware of what was happening, but wasn’t necessarily talking openly.
Now, in the middle of it (or really from the beginning), the way that the city of Moldova looks like on a government level is stressed because for a few years we have been in a big decline of citizens. People are leaving the country faster than others are getting into the country, and one we have millions of people finding refuge in Moldova. It was a potential risk that Moldova would not have enough workers in healthcare, education, etc. just because of the migration rate which has been [in existence] for quite some time and the population [that] was constantly declining. So, we got adapted for that. And now we have to provide for and help the people who come into Moldova, obviously. This very rapid switch was stressful for the government and administration.
What you could see was that the people were, for the first few days, thinking about what they would do and what their families would do, but then you sum it to “you can’t do anything” because you aren’t really implicated. So logically speaking, it wasn’t the right moment, perhaps. You had to do something, because you were doing nothing and constantly worrying. So people started volunteering a lot. As I said, we have a lot of refugees right now, and at that specific point we were not prepared — we still aren’t prepared — for that large an amount of people.
Our government and organizations [established] centers for refugees, in our capital, at the borders, and in general, and people started helping. Everything for the first few weeks — even now, I just volunteered at a shelter a few days ago — was volunteer based. Again, our government is not really prepared to help that number of people under normal conditions, so everything was volunteer-based. The centers were basically living off of volunteer work and they still do, except at the beginning there was a bigger wave of volunteers and donations because it was a very intense period of time when you realized “today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us.” This specific phrase was used a lot in the news and people were thinking of it. Even though they were not saying it out loud, people were thinking it. My guess is that everyone who lives near Ukraine — be it Moldova or any other country — was thinking it.
The wave of volunteers is now starting to get a bit smaller and now is when we have to find long term solutions and ways to adapt to people who have nowhere else to go. From this wave of refugees, maybe some had somewhere to go, such as family abroad, but a lot of lower class people or those who did not have family abroad either stayed here, or Romania, or Poland, but it is the same thing. You are not at home and you do not have somewhere to go. So there is this worry about what should be done further, but in terms of how the people are looking right now, everyone kind of got back to their regular lives. At this point people are working, people are back in their normal routines, which again, is strange. But it is there and you can’t avoid it because again, you aren’t implicated. This is the weird thing — you are a witness and it is happening very close, but you still can’t complain and do nothing and read the news all day because that’s not solving anything.
At the beginning there was a bigger wave of volunteers and donations because it was a very intense period of time when you realized ‘today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us.’” — Felicia Iordachi
At the beginning there was a bigger wave of volunteers and donations because it was a very intense period of time when you realized ‘today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us.’”
— Felicia Iordachi
In terms of the volunteer work, at least from what I saw, there are some bigger volunteer centers. Since the beginning, if you wanted to go to a volunteer center [as a volunteer] you had to sign up a few days before. People got really organized and there were (and still are) a lot of initiatives. People would need to sign up a few days before because there were so many volunteers. After a few days, even bigger, international organizations started donating and becoming [involved] in facilitating this. It is not realistic that all the citizens take care of this and now that everyone is back to their normal lives and their normal jobs there is a decline in volunteer work, specifically volunteering to go [to shelters], to stay there, and to help.
Donations are still happening and volunteer work is still happening. At the bigger centers there is still a good number of people wanting to help, but where I went, [this was not the case]. I went with a friend. It was in this college building — and colleges are not fancy, don’t imagine a Yale building or anything — and it was a small center so we could find a spot quickly. There was one volunteer before us who also had no experience, but when he left, it was just the two of us. We hadn’t done any volunteer work dealing with refugees or refugee centers before and it was just the two of us. There were still some people who contributed regularly who were kind of around, but from that you can understand [the situation through] two people dealing with a center for close to 200 [refugees]. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t impossible to do, but it was just surprising to me.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were very volunteer-based. If companies and different agents or restaurants brought a donation, there was dinner, but if they didn’t, then there wasn’t dinner. That was the situation. It still is manageable because people are still volunteering and donating, but it is still surprising and makes us consider what is happening next. The people who don’t have a place to go to, well, don’t have a place to go to, but volunteer work at some point, maybe not in the near future but at some point, will get smaller. As you saw in a lot of countries who accepted a lot of refugees — I am not going to name all the countries because I don’t want to get political here — at some point they couldn’t provide everything with volunteer work. There had to be a mechanism, a way of coping with the wave of people coming in and to provide them with a normal life again. Living in a college campus — you can’t even call it a college campus — after you lived a normal life with a stable job and a stable life, it is not… Families that had a life and a job and a school to go to should not live off of charity. It is a very big shift and it raises questions like “what do we do further?”
What is your general political reaction to the conflict? What should Ukraine, NATO, EU, and others do to get involved (or not) in this situation?
In terms of NATO implications, I do get why they couldn’t be involved with the military directly. That was a pretty basic thing that people could get once they try to wrap their minds around it. This is already a tense enough conflict. Add the States to that and a lot of powerful western countries and you have a World War, so it is reasonable why that did not happen. In terms of other implications, it is hard to say what my opinion was, because to be fair, I am not sure if I even had an opinion. I was mostly reading from different sources and trying to get informed.
There were a lot of political discussions surrounding this. One, was who is implicated. Two, was who was the victim here and who is guilty. A third discussion is about the refugees. There is a lot of discussion around [who is the victim and who is guilty], but I prefer not to get into it because it is concerning people and not just the government. I feel it is complicated to make a judgment on that. And I don’t have an opinion on my own — well, I do have an opinion, I just don’t really feel comfortable sharing it. It gets messy when you are talking about political matters.
One thing that was related to social economics was the refugees’ part. Again, Moldova is a big receptor of refugees right now and there was this movement that was expected. At the beginning everyone was super welcoming, super helpful, volunteering, everyone was super empathetic and everyone understood. At some point, there was this spark of hatred toward the refugees. It wasn’t that big. It might still be going around but I am not hearing of it that much.
Xenophobia and racism is a thing everywhere and once you have such a big social change it was expected to see some of it. I didn’t think that it would happen, but it did, so it was kind of a division. There was this hatred and people started talking about their problems with the refugees coming in. This was almost purely a social reaction, but it did have some political implications as well. There were a lot of debates and people segregating into camps [regarding the issue] — the camp that was still helpful, caring, volunteering, and empathetic [and the camp that was not]. I was very pleasantly surprised with the amount of people who helped. It was still heartwarming to see. Well, it was a normal reaction [I shouldn’t be surprised].
Moldovans are kind of a very restricted range of people. Again, people are migrating out of Moldova and not many people are coming into Moldova, so you don’t have that much diversity. You don’t have people who are adjusted to social changes. So it was unfortunately expectable to see people having some trouble adjusting to living together with other nationalities within the same space. There were some not really nice things going on for a little bit of time there. But it somehow got managed. Now it is not that evident. The people who think that way are still there, but I would say that as of right now people are pretty empathetic and they are pretty reasonably implicated in facilitating, on some level, a normal life. [The discrimination] was one sociopolitical move that I did not like, but it was there.
See, this is an informational war as well. And again, I was constantly reading the news, everyone was constantly reading the news, and you didn’t really have time to process what you thought of it. Whatever you took in, you took in. So a lot of people were really just a reflection of what they read — and me myself, probably — but I think the fact that we are getting back to normal lives gives [us] time to process it. I think that might have diminished the wave [of discrimination] a little bit. But I still expect to see some things going on long-term since we now need to adjust to having multiple nationalities, not just Moldovans here or just Russians here.
The [fact] that we were restricted to our own nation or at least our own roots on some level did affect the way we [reacted]. Again, I feel like this was a small percentage of people. Most people were really wanting to help, but there still was this spark there. At least from my point of view, it is getting better. It is not as prevalent, at least in daily conversation, but I am again not getting out of the house that much.
Are you worried that Russia might invade Moldova?
Again, it depends on the timing like pretty much everything. At the beginning, definitely. Yes. That was probably the thing that was on everyone’s minds. That was why everyone was very distracted. In the beginning it was kind of oscillating. For a few hours you would think, “it isn’t looking good,” but then once you read more [this was not always the case]. There were multiple official announcements that war was going to start.
At the beginning, everyone was worried about this, my family included. Also my friends, my teachers, everyone. Right now — I am hoping not to jinx it to be honest, because again, before Ukraine was invaded I was kind of 95% sure that war was not going to happen, only one or two days before [the invasion], but then it happened — but there aren’t any clear, official signs of why it would happen. There is no reason for it to happen, there is no open conflict going on, or “unfriendly relations,” the way they are called by certain political figures. There are no open conflicts that could issue a potential military reaction here. Whether that is going to happen or not I have absolutely no idea. I am inclined to say no. It is not on my mind constantly.
I am inclined to say no, its not going to happen because again, there are no actual reasons for why it would happen. No valid, official reasons (but not using the word “valid” because HSC would kill me) reasons that are actually reasonable and sound. But again, I can’t jinx it. As normal citizens you have no idea. You can think something, but then again, nobody is asking you about it. It is not like someone asked Ukraine if they would like to be invaded. It is a matter of having your own beliefs and how impactful your beliefs are. In this case, you do have your own beliefs. I have my own beliefs and I don’t think [Moldova] is going to be invaded militarily, but how impactful are those beliefs? They aren’t. Because if someone wants to start something, they will start something and no one’s opinion can really change how things are looking behind the scenes. Things are happening behind the scenes. Everybody knows that — it is politics. It is games. It is on a higher level than we are implicated.
What were you and your family planning to do in the case of Ukraine being invaded?
We started to be aware of what was happening when we were visiting my aunt in Spain. We were just having a nice trip but then we started talking about war. It was just Ukraine that was discussed, but honestly, you kind of make the connection yourself if you live near Ukraine. Also, Moldova is not just nearby, it is nearby and in the middle of everything. You have Ukraine and more of a Pro-Russian to the East, then Moldova, then from Romania and further, it is NATO. Romania is a part of NATO, Moldova is not. So you have NATO, you have Moldova, you have Ukraine which was being talked about for joining NATO, then you have Russia, then you have us right in the middle.
Back in January the only open discussion we had about this was my mom, my aunt, and I and the only things we discussed were one, is this going to happen and two, if it does happen [what do we do]? We do have family abroad. The only thing that we discussed openly was if we did have to leave, that we wouldn’t do it by plane. And that wasn’t the most intellectual remark because the airport got shut down the second after war started. That was the only discussion we had about it when Ukraine was in an intense situation but war had not yet started. After war started, we also didn’t have a really open discussion about this within my family. I did see my parents considering options. They were super intense, everyone was super tense.
Again, we are fortunate enough to have family abroad. We are fortunate enough to have a car that can drive us there. Connecting points there, you put your stuff in the car and you drive. That was the plan, I think. We had two options. This is weird to be talking about, but we did briefly discuss this. We have a basement or a cellar, so my mom was talking about moving a sofa there just in case. One option was having the basement as an option if the worst wasn’t going to happen and the other option was to leave the country. My parents, specifically, were considering this, but we never actually said “we’re leaving.” We would not leave until we had an actual reason to leave. Again, we were not and still are not implicated, there was not an official source that could make us worry about that.
Of course, everyone was worried, but it still was not the moment when we said, “okay, we’re leaving.” It was a plan. Everyone had a plan. Everyone knew where their passports were, everyone knew where their documentation was. I think my mom one day wanted to come home earlier to back some things up — a lot of people did this — to have them close by. Because we did see how a lot of families were taken by surprise. We didn’t end up doing that in the end. My parents were busy with work and I was busy with school so we didn’t actually back things up, but we did consider options. Leaving was just something we, and everyone I knew, was considering although we didn’t have a family meeting or active plans to leave. Words weren’t exactly needed. You could kind of figure out what the options were — go in the basement, or go in the car.
How has OHS played a part in your experience?
First of all, people at OHS were super supportive — extremely supportive in a very nice way. That was very nice to see, and that felt good. It was actually reassuring on some level. It’s hard to talk about how [I am] feeling about all of this because I am not in the worst situation at all. There are worse cases — a lot of worse cases — so it feels weird to talk about how [I] felt about all of this because [I wasn’t] in the worst situation and don’t have the worst feelings. But still, having the support was nice. It was definitely reassuring. And since I wasn’t getting that much school work done, it was a good amount of support.
That was kind of it — people were super supportive in terms of how OHS impacted my experience with things starting here. The other way around, the first four days were not good in terms of school work. Regardless of how much I tried, I couldn’t get stuff done. My life is in my laptop, but do you know what else is in my laptop? My news site. So, you have my Google Doc there with my English essay (very nicely typed) and then you have a news site right next to it. I was just switching back and forth every thirty seconds or so. That wasn’t super productive of me. But, again — maybe also because of that support — things got better. Schoolwork got somewhat better. It seems weird, again, because you’re not in the middle of it. You’re not directly impacted by things. So at times, it feels like victimizing yourself. Personally speaking, I felt weird feeling bad, or at least feeling worried about how things could evolve here because there were more important things happening over there. So, that dose of support was definitely at the right time and the right moment.