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Romanians Mobilize On Facebook To Offer Homes To Ukraine's War Refugees

People fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at the Romanian border at Siret, near the Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, on February 24.
People fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at the Romanian border at Siret, near the Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, on February 24.

In Romania, an outpouring of private offers of accommodation and other help has greeted Ukrainians fleeing danger as the Russian war on their homeland continues, as official refugee camps appeared slow to open in the initial days of the conflict.

Tens of thousands of Romanians from Cluj, Timisoara, Constanta, Bucharest, and smaller cities have joined makeshift platforms to meet the swelling demand for assistance, which UN and other officials warn could quickly balloon as millions of Ukrainians are displaced by the biggest military invasion in Europe since World War II.

Watching the humanitarian calamity unfold across the Ukrainian border only about 80 kilometers from Neamt County, in northeastern Romania, Silviu Ardeleanu says he fell into a stupor. "When I saw the photos of the women [fleeing Ukraine] with children, I couldn't speak for about three hours," he told RFE/RL's Romanian Service.

Silviu-Bogdan Ardeleanu
Silviu-Bogdan Ardeleanu

Thinking of his own wife and three children, he added later, "I said, 'Wow, if I were in this situation...."

Within 24 hours, Ardeleanu was welcoming the first of nearly two dozen Ukrainian war refugees who are now sheltering at the boardinghouse that he runs on his property near the Izvorul Muntelui reservoir, also known as Lake Bicaz. All but two are women or children.

By February 27, many of them were sitting at an informal gathering in the courtyard where there was grilling and, crucially for the children, Ardeleanu said, "laughing."

Ukrainian children who fled Ukraine with their mothers join a meal at Silviu-Bogdan Ardeleanu's hotel/boardinghouse on February 27.
Ukrainian children who fled Ukraine with their mothers join a meal at Silviu-Bogdan Ardeleanu's hotel/boardinghouse on February 27.

Neamt's tourism season is fast approaching, but Ardeleanu says he can accommodate a few more people among his three cottages, with 12 combined rooms, and the Ukrainians can stay indefinitely. "As long as the war lasts, they can stay," he said.

Some of Ardeleanu's guests are the families of men he knows to be working far from home, aboard Taiwanese ships, who reached out to him through mutual acquaintances. Others found him through a two-week-old Facebook group set up to help match Ukrainians in need with Romanians who, like Ardeleanu, just want to help.

United For Ukraine

Uniti Pentru Ucraina (United For Ukraine) already has more than 225,000 members, including donors, volunteers, tutors, and Ukrainians seeking help as they escape the violence. It's a project organized by European Parliament member Vlad Gheorghe, along with other Romanians eager to unite local individuals, NGOs, and businesses willing to help.

Since his own message on the site, Ardeleanu, who's a member of a local council, has fielded calls from at least 10 other residents offering use of their property to house war refugees.

But it's not just Romanians in the border regions.

Silvana Strava, an economist and mother of three from the town of Avrig, in Sibiu in central Romania, offered accommodation and meals on the Facebook site, and even said she could travel hundreds of kilometers to the Ukrainian border to pick up the fleeing Ukrainians. "I find it horrible what we see there, and we can't even imagine what parents, families, and children are going through when they have to separate or leave with nothing," she said.

Caesar Sirian
Caesar Sirian

Caesar Sirian emigrated from Romania 16 years ago and has his own business in Germany. But he still owns a house in Brasov, in touristic Transylvania, that is empty and undergoing reconstruction. So he offered two of its rooms for up to four Ukrainians and packed up to return home over the weekend to sort out the details. Once the renovations are done next month, Sirian says, the house can house more refugees.

There are still long lines of cars in southern Ukraine with frightened families inside who have been waiting three days to cross the Siret checkpoint into Romania.

The UN refugee agency said on February 28 that half a million people had fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin's order to invade the country, home to 44 million people, with many of them crossing into Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. The agency has warned that the fighting could force up to 4 million to flee Ukraine.

Similar sites have cropped up in those and other countries, also with "marketplaces" for free accommodation and other assistance.

Romanian officials were said to have only slowly ramped up the opening of facilities for people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine.

And there were early indications from Romanian authorities that only a small portion of the thousands of Ukrainians who came to the country in the initial days of the war had applied for refugee status in Romania, with many expected to continue westward.

Romanian authorities announced that by March 1, 89,000 Ukrainians had entered the country and, of those, 50,000 had moved on to other EU destinations.

Written and with contributions by Andy Heil, based on reporting by Andreea Ofiteru of RFE/RL's Romanian Service
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    Andreea Ofiteru

    Andreea Ofiteru is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL's Romanian Service.

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    Andy Heil

    Andy Heil is a Prague-based senior correspondent covering central and southeastern Europe and the North Caucasus, and occasionally science and the environment. Before joining RFE/RL in 2001, he was a longtime reporter and editor of business, economic, and political news in Central Europe, including for the Prague Business Journal, Reuters, Oxford Analytica, and Acquisitions Monthly, and a freelance contributor to the Christian Science Monitor, Respekt, and Tyden. 

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