Northern Romania provides one of the main escape routes from war-torn Ukraine and the setting for some of the most heartbreaking moments outside the warzone.
I spent a week at the Romania-Ukrainian border crossing paths with some of those seeking safe passage into Romania. The numbers are so far staggering. Through this entry point alone, over 150.000 Ukrainians made the crossing since the war began.
Romania is welcoming refugees into the country via other border crossings. To the east, Ukrainians cross into Romania via Republic of Moldova and to the S-E at Isaccea an increasing number of refugees are escaping the regions near Odessa. Still Romania’s northern border with the war ravaged country has been seeing the largest number of displaced Ukrainians.
Up there, in the north, those making the journey are meet by volunteers offering everything from a warm meal, drinks and medicine, to hygiene products, clothing, even toys to free transport to major cities across Romania. Buses were waiting to take them further to their desired destinations. Most of the Ukrainians plan to travel further, as they have friends or family in other European countries.
For the past weeks alone, the weather at the border has been particularly harsh. A late winter with freezing temperatures and daily snowfalls made the long queues even harder the bear. Some arrive late in the night, soaking wet and were expected to wait many long hours, most of the time well into the next day to enter Romania.
Those that came by foot were dropped off by husbands, fathers and partners, as able men were barred from leaving Ukraine, allowed only to accompany loved ones to the border and then return to fight in the war. The goodbye scenes were at times surreal, like cut scenes from drama movies.
In addition to those coming by foot looking to cross the border separating war from peace, hundreds if not thousands of cars, packed with the little people could take in, had to wait for days on end to enter Romania. With a queue so severe that it stretched at times well over 20 km, some ran out of fuel.
After the bitter cold and heavy snow that hit the region hard in the last weeks, refugees battling the cold weather were offered a short respite from the reality they were escaping. On the Romanian side of the border, hot tea, food and blankets awaited weary and tents to sit and keep warm.
Refugee camps were set up close to border as well as in major cities to manage the influx of refugees witch grew larger with every passing day.
It is yet unclear how many will remain in Romania, and how many will move further to the west. For those choosing to stay, efforts are made to accommodate them.
More than 2,300 job vacancies earmarked for Ukrainian refugees have been advertised by Romanian companies via the National Employment Agencies.
The government has amended the legislation so that refugees do not need work or long-stay permits. The number of offers advertised by companies, through the National Employment Agency or recruitment portals, has meanwhile reached thousands.