Painting rainbows again

More than four million Ukrainians have left their homeland since February. Many of them now find themselves in neighbouring Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries. The Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation has been running educational projects for disadvantaged children here for 14 years. After the war broke out, we acted quickly to support the refugees.


Therapy through play

Since the start of the war, our Moldova office has been in constant contact with the authorities and local partner organisations in order to identify refugees’ needs and to help out where we can. The first few months were about distributing everyday necessities, and we then set up playrooms and trained psychologists and educators to look after the children. Nina Ciubuc is a psychologist at the Criuleni reception centre. She runs individual and group therapy sessions with the children. Play-based therapies help to break down the children’s fears and strengthen their sense of identity and self-confidence. “Many children only painted bombs and guns when they arrived here, but now they paint flowers, rainbows and their families. I see that as a huge endorsement of my work,” says Nina Ciubuc.

«Many children only painted bombs and guns when they arrived here, but now they paint flowers, rainbows and their families. I see that as a huge endorsement of my work.»

Nina Ciubuc – psychologist at the Criuleni reception centre

Respite for parents

Last February, within a matter of hours, mothers and children packed their most important possessions into suitcases, said goodbye to their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, and left their beloved homes. Many refugees crossed the border into Moldova in search of protection. Although some travelled onwards, about 90,000 have stayed there.

One of them is Olga Komenko. On 1st March she fled from Kryvyi Rih with her five children, two of whom are adopted, and her husband. Her husband was allowed to leave the country because there is a special provision for fathers with more than three underage children. She is very glad about this: “I don’t know if I’d have left otherwise. Looking after five young children on your own, that really wears you out. Now we can share the childcare, like we’re doing today: he’s at the doctor’s with our two adopted daughters while I’m looking after the other three. The childcare on offer here also eases the pressure.” Komenko’s daughter Anastasia is happy about it too. Here, in the playroom of the Criuleni refugee centre, the seven-year-old can play with the other children, paint with the caregivers or tumble around on the newly delivered beanbags.

Olga Komenko and her daughter Anastasia.

Not knowing what tomorrow holds

Marina Mishenko has found refuge in the same centre with her sons Ignat (aged 5) and Andrei (10). Marina’s husband and father are both fighting in Kherson. She only hears from them every few days. “The time in between is awful. When I don't know when I'll hear from them next – or if I ever will.” Mishenko is considering returning to her native Odesa. “The children and I miss our home. They want to see their friends again, go to school. I also want to be back in my normal environment. I don’t know what to do. Maybe we’ll wait and see how the situation develops.” In the meantime, she is glad to have found safe accommodation for herself and her children at the reception centre in Criuleni and hopes for peace in what seems to be a never-ending war.

Marina Mishenko and her sons Ignat und Andrei.