Education and Science Trade Union Federation from Moldova: “The refugee situation to date remains complicated and requires mobilisation and concrete actions”


Following the military invasion by the Russian Federation on the Ukraine, that started on the 24 February 2022, millions of people have been displaced fleeing the war zone to the neighbouring countries, majority of them women and children. Most of the persons leaving Ukraine and seeking refuge elsewhere, are crossing into EU and other neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary. Many education unions in these countries have already expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people and stepped in to support refugees, especially children and youth.

Today, we spoke to Ghenadie Donos, President of the Education and Science Trade Union Federation from Moldova (ESTU), ETUCE member organisation in Moldova, about union’s actions on supporting Ukrainian teachers and refugees coming to their country.

Due to the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, Moldova is experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are women and children. Could you tell us what is the current situation in your country and what impact does it have on the education system?

Ghenadie Donos: The situation to date remains complicated and requires mobilisation and concrete actions in each refugee centre. I agree with our colleagues in Poland who call all Ukrainian citizens to whom they offer a home and a meal, “guests”, because we consider this word more appropriate for the children and the women who are suffering terribly as a result of the war in the neighbouring country. It is one thing to get the information from the media about the situation in Ukraine and the problems of those seeking shelter here, but it is quite another to see the eyes of these little children who now need not only warmth, but also a warm word.

Our Federation has organised a series of actions to provide our guests from Ukraine with various forms of supports adapted with their needs. These actions were organised in cooperation with local administration because the needs of Ukrainians can be well understood only at the local level. Our colleagues from different Republic’s districts collected food, medicine, sanitary and hygiene products, clothes, even children's toys; they offered hospitality for those staying or transport for those who were transiting to European countries.

From what I understood after numerous discussions with Ukrainian mothers accommodated in the refugee centres (I refer to temporary centres opened at the State University of Moldova, the Technical University of Moldova, the Institute of Education Sciences), some pupils use the distance education offered by Ukrainian schools in areas where the war allows this. It is obviously better for them to study in their mother tongue and with the same teachers and colleagues as before the war. We are doing everything we can to provide high quality internet connection, so that students can benefit from distance learning. This form of studying is especially used by students in higher grades, as they can obtain their certificates of studies that will allow them to pass the final exam after the war. There is another group of children who want to enrol in our schools, and above all, there are mothers who would like to enrol their children in kindergartens. This is where we can offer them qualified support, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Research.

What actions is your union taking to address these issues? What would you demand from your government?

Ghenadie Donos: Following our appeal to affiliated member organisations, so far, we have collected donations from trade union members in the education institutions in the country. The amount transferred to the account of the General Council of the ESTU is 475.000 MDL (24. 000 €) for the benefit of refugees.

At the same time, trade unionists from a number of institutions affiliated to the ESTU are very actively involved in the process of supporting refugees. In particular, the Technical University of Moldova (TUM) has become a host for refugees from Ukraine since 27 February. The Centre for Refugees of the TUM has five subdivisions, hosting 233 people daily, including 94 children. So far, 778 refugees have been hosted and supported at the Technical University's centre for refugees. The Centre's employees make every effort to provide them with emotional and medical support, as well as with hygiene products and three meals per day.

All this support was made possible, in the first instance, thanks to the enthusiasm, receptivity and goodwill of TUM employees and students who have been volunteering since February, but also thanks to the support of some companies who provided financial support. Colleagues from the TUM Employees' Trade Union Committee and the TUM Students' Trade Union Committee were actively involved. The Trade Union Federation of Education and Science of Moldova transferred 40 000 MDL to provide food for the refugees staying in TUM hostels.

Colleagues from the State University of Moldova (USM) are also supporting the refugees from Ukraine accommodated in its hostels. The institution has provided refugees with accommodation in three locations, and so far, the State University of Moldova has hosted more than 2.500 refugees. The Student Union Committee, together with the Church "The Welcoming of the Lord", is responsible for collecting donations and distributing them to the USM refugee centres, as well as for the feeding and welfare of the 200 children accommodated in the USM centres. Here again the Trade Union Federation of Education and Science contributed 40 000 MDL for the procurement of food and other necessities.

The Trade Union Committee of the Institute of Education Sciences is very actively involved in providing the refugees accommodated in the institution's premises with all the necessary supplies. At present, 156 people, including 48 children, live here. The Trade Union Federation of Education and Science has transferred 20 000 MDL to the institution's account to support Ukrainians displaced from their homes because of the war.

A large number of refugees are in the centre for refugees organised in the "Bucuria-Sind" sanatorium in Vadul lui Voda, which is currently hosting refugee families from Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, about 800 refugees, including 250 children, have been placed in this institution run by the National Trade Union Confederation of Moldova (CNSM). At the moment there are 130 refugees in the sanatorium "Bucuria-Sind", 30 of them children. The Trade Union Federation of Education and Science of Moldova transferred 100 000 MDL in the first days to ensure the provision of the heating of the center for refugees. Recently, we have transferred another 150 000 MDL to pay the invoices for the services of the refugee centre in Vadul lui Voda.

As for our relations with the Government, in particular, the Ministry of Education and Science, they are based on partnership and social dialogue. Of course, the refugee crisis has left its mark on our common agenda, but our efforts are oriented towards ensuring the functionality of national education system and towards the permanent continuation of dialogue.

How could ETUCE and education trade unions in other countries support your union in dealing with these challenges?

Ghenadie Donos: ETUCE's encouragement and interest in our actions is a sign of appreciation for us. Of course, the problems that have arisen in ensuring the smooth running of the refugee centres re a burden for us, not only because the tragedy has happened so suddenly but mostly because our financial means to deal with the refugee crisis are insufficient. That is why any help from partners is welcome. For example, I have received a message from the director of the sanatorium "Bucuria Sind" that the bill for the payment of the thermal energy has to be paid which amounts to 300 000 MDL (equivalent of around 15 000 €monthly). At the moment, we can pay only half of this cost and we will have to find a solution to cover the whole amount. And this is just one example of the problems we are facing.

Refugees don't impose conditions on us, and we can't impose conditions on anyone, we can just inform about the measures we are taking and about our needs.