By Marcel Gascon
Siret, Romania, Feb 27 (EFE).- Thousands of ordinary Romanians are joining efforts led by the government, companies, churches, and NGOs to provide refugees fleeing the violence in Ukraine with food, accommodation and transportation.
Bogdan Nicolae, 35, a soldier in the Romanian army, tells Efe that he voluntarily drove his car almost six hours from the city of Ploiesti to the Siret border crossing in northeastern Romania to bring four Ukrainians wherever they wanted to go.
Early on Saturday, more than 18,000 Ukrainians arrived in Romania; the overwhelming majority were women, children and elderly people, according to the Romanian government.
At least 43,000 Ukrainians have entered Romania since the beginning of the Russian invasion on Thursday, while some 20,650 have already moved on to other countries, a government spokesman reported.
So far, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that some 368,000 Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries in the wake of the invasion.
Both UNHCR and the Ukrainian government have warned that the violence could displace as many as five million Ukrainians.
Romania, which does not require a visa for Ukrainians, has been one of their main destinations since the war broke out.
Nicolae, who spent several hours near the border holding a cardboard reading “Bucharest,” picked up a Ukrainian mother and her child to drop them off at a boarding house in the town of Suceava nearly 50 kilometers away, before returning to wait for other potential passengers.
The influx of refugees is not limited to Ukrainians. A Ghanaian student who used to study medicine in Ternopil in western Ukraine decided to flee with hopes that his embassy in Romania would help him fly back to Ghana.
Hundreds of Indian students in Ukraine have also crossed the border into Romania on their way to Bucharest before returning home.
“Maybe I’ll wait a few weeks in Bucharest,” one of them says after spending the night in a bomb shelter in Ivano-Frankivsk before queuing for hours on the Ukrainian side of the border.
“We are allowed to spend three months without a visa in Romania,” adds the young man, who said that Romania has eliminated visa requirements for everyone fleeing Ukraine due to the Russian military offensive.
The majority of Ukrainians arriving into Romania through Siret are from around Chernivtsi, a city of almost 250,000 people nearly 40 kilometers from the border.
Many of those arriving are members of Ukraine’s ethnic Romanian minority, while Ukrainians living in Romania have come to the border crossing to help as translators for those who do not know the Romanian language.
People from Kyiv have also been spotted at the border after driving the approximately 600 kilometers from the capital just before the Russian siege of Kyiv began.
Most who arrive at Siret do not intend to stay in Romania as their final destination.
Ciprian Bolog, a Romanian using his van to transport refugees, tells Efe: “It’s mostly a transit point. They are staying for one night or two and will continue on their way to Western countries.”EFE