A Romanian office building has been converted into space to house 450 refugees a night as the Romanian Orthodox Church and an international humanitarian organization respond to the mass exodus of Ukrainians from their homes as Russian troops ravage the country.
Edgar Sandoval, the CEO of World Vision, was recently in Romania to assess the organization's efforts to minister to Ukrainians who were forced to flee their homes amid Russia's invasion of their country and shared what he witnessed in an interview with The Christian Post.
Despite the challenges that come with providing food, clothing and shelter for hundreds or even thousands of refugees, Sandoval praised the “generosity of the Romanian community,” recalling that during a visit to the Romanian city of Iasi, he “saw this office building that had been completely refurbished into a shelter and everything inside the shelter had been provided by the community.” He told CP that the shelter included “everything from beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pillows [and] toys” provided by the “generosity of the community.”
“That office space could host 450 refugees per night, but then they also need to continue to pay for the electricity” as well as showers and “this is where World Vision comes in,” he said. “We’ve been partnering alongside them by providing the utilities, hygiene kits, laundry and shower facilities.”
“The exodus of people continues to just increase and so this has become … the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II,” Sandoval said of the challenges Europe is facing to help the millions of Ukrainians seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
“An estimated over 3 million people have already fled Ukraine to bordering countries,” he added. “I was at two border points, one with Moldova and one with Ukraine. And what I saw was just strings of people coming through, some of them walking, some of them with nothing but the clothes on their back, some with a suitcase.”
Sandoval said that one day at the border crossing in the town of Siret, “15,000 people came through.” He lamented that the situation “continues to get worse as the conflict increases.”
He contrasted the refugee crisis in Eastern Europe with those he had experienced in the past. In the current crisis, those fleeing Ukraine are “in transit” because “they want their final destination to be in Western Europe.” They stop in Romania on the way, he added, because “it’s so cold” and “they need a place where they can safely stay for a couple of nights.”
“They need food, they need showers [and] warm clothing," he said. "The vast majority of the people crossing are women and young children, and very young children at that.”
Sandoval discussed World Vision’s efforts to create “child-friendly spaces” that amount to “a little daycare setting in a shelter where there are toys and activities where kids can be kids again as we try to mitigate any sort of psychosocial effects that the conflict may have on them.”
In his conversations with refugees, Sandoval has learned that many have friends and family in Western Europe, which explains why they see the region as their ultimate destination. He shared a conversation he'd had with a father who has a 16-year-old son with special needs. They were staying at the office building that had been converted into a shelter. The man’s sister works as a maid in Italy, and she had come to Romania to help them find their way there.
While Sandoval predicts that most Ukrainian refugees will move on to Western Europe after a stop in Romania, he's awaiting “more clarity on how many refugees will actually stay in Romania.” He spoke of “a plan being developed” to make sure that children “can continue their education” and obtain “all the support services to the families” who choose to remain in the Eastern European country.
Sandoval said the Romanian Orthodox Church is one of World Vision’s partners on the ground working to “provide information and [meet] the needs of these refugees.” Specifically, the Romanian Orthodox Church is “coordinating medical supply donations for Ukrainian hospitals.”
The World Vision CEO told CP that the demographic makeup of the refugees has changed over time. He suggested that the people who left Ukraine at the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict had “more means” because “they were leaving in their own cars.” More recently, most refugees are “coming with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
World Vision has plans to expand its response to the Ukraine-Russia conflict into other Eastern European countries. “We are in the process of evaluating partners in Moldova and also in Poland as we expect the longer this conflict continues, the more people we’ll expect will want to find refuge and cross the border," Sandoval said. "So we’re evaluating what may be needed to support refugees in Moldova, to support them in Poland, and then we’ll need to continue our operation and strengthen our operation in Romania.”
World Vision has raised over $8 million for the Ukraine crisis so far. Having seen the “difference that the donations from the U.S. are making for the refugees,” Sandoval asked American Christians to “continue praying for this conflict” and to “donate because the needs are increasing and we want to be able to be there for the people of Ukraine at the time of their greatest need.”
Originally published on The Christian Post.