The border report
April 5th - April 9th. Written by: Clary Estes
Ukraine Stories is developing an update series we call “The Border Report.” Currently, these reports are coming out of Palanca, Moldova, near the border with Odessa. This border crossing is by far the most active in all of Moldova and is an interesting view into how the Russian invasion is going and how it is affecting Ukrainians fleeing the violence.
A Little Bit of Background
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with UN Migration, “By April 6, Ukrainian Refugees represent 91% (363,507) of individuals (399,091) registered at entry from Ukraine to the Republic of Moldova, while the remaining 9% (35,584) are [tentative nonconfirmation (TNC), meaning (very simply) that their migration status does not match current records.]”
The highest influx of refugees came through (or to) Moldova on March 3rd, with 30,513 arrivals in one day. As you will see in future reporting, the needs of this rapid influx of refugees were swiftly met with an outpouring of grassroots Moldovan support. As we settle into the second month of the conflict, aid is being shifted to larger international organizations with greater manpower, finances, and resources.
So far, most Ukrainian refugees are choosing to pass through Moldova with 89% (235,569) of registered Ukrainian refugees having left the country. Furthermore, 11% (30,292) of TNCs have also left Moldova. There has also been a significant drop in the number of refugees passing through the border as the conflict has ebbed and flowed.
Again, in a future article, we will delve into the return of some Ukrainians to their home country, which has occurred in recent weeks, and explore why. As reported by some returning Ukrainians on April 4th, some former refugees believe that “the danger is already over, [as a result of] from the [what they have heard from] their relatives and neighbors. Others said they are tired of running or they can’t afford to live abroad.” Or even that, “they need spring clothes from their home.”
What is the border crossing in Palanca like?
Palanca is a Moldovan border crossing in the south, about 70km from Odessa, and easily sees the highest rates of Ukrainians leaving the country out of any crossing in Moldova. This is because of its proximity to Odessa, as well as the ever-increasing focus of Russian forces on the southeastern area of Ukraine.
For a number of reasons, which we will explore in later reporting, Palanca is also an ideal place for people to seek asylum along the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.
As a result, Moldovan, and now international NGOs are focusing many of their efforts on supporting that crossing. This has been done in a number of ways. A bus station offers free transport to either Chisinau or the border of Huşi, Romania. In Chisinau, Ukrainians can either stay at MoldExpo, a former COVID hospital turned refugee center, or a bus station, presumably to meet with friends and family.
There is also free transport from the border crossing to the nearby bus station. Food and various other provisions are available, as well as counseling and medical assistance, among other resources. There is also a nearby refugee camp that is currently no longer in use, but still available.
April 4th – April 9th
This week saw an increased instance of Ukrainians coming from Nikolaev and Odessa, as well as Kharkiv, in response to the increase in attacks in those areas. There were also a number of Roma refugees at the Palanca border, going both to Romania and returning to Ukraine.
The transit of the Roma population has created a number of issues for the border authorities. One story has arisen about one Roma female who transported three children with three specific passports. She then returned to Ukraine on her own. She later returned with three more children and tried to transport them across the border with the same set of passports. She was then arrested and child protective in Ukraine and Moldova was alerted to the situation. There has been an increased concern about trafficking on the border given the increased ease of passage given.
As of April 9th there were 3994 asylum claims to date, with a total of 41 men asking for asylum between the 4th and the 9th.
Most refugees claimed that they intended to reach EU countries, such as Italy, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, or Poland. Others said they spoke to friends who are in Moldova and intended to meet with them. Some refugees state, understandably, that they want to stay in Moldova and return to Ukraine as soon as possible.
Odessa also implemented a lockdown from April 10th to the 11th, which speaks to some potentially disconcerting developments in Russia’s military plan regarding the south of Ukraine. This lockdown affected migration across the border, bringing it to a near stop on Sunday.
The lockdown is expected to be lifted by 9 am on the morning of April 11th. This lockdown is not necessarily a result of specific intel, but rather because April 10th is a symbolic day in Russia as being a day of liberation in Odessa during WWII. Odessa is an incredibly important port city for both Ukraine and Russia. An attack on Odessa would also see a larger outmigration of people from Moldova.