Huge acceptance of Ukrainians puts Moldova's refugee system on the brink of collapse

The kindness of strangers to Ukrainians fleeing home has been one heartwarming part of this tragedy, but in Moldova a refugee crisis is now looming. It is one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries, and yet this tiny nation is taking on Europe’s biggest share of Ukrainian refugees per capita. More than 200,000 Ukrainians have entered Moldova in the first 10 days of war. To put that into some meaningful context, that’s 10% of their entire population. It would be the equivalent of six million Ukrainians arriving in the UK, instead of the reality which is around 760. Moldovans look angry at me when I tell them that number.

Hundreds of people have managed to flee Ukraine and are now queuing as they wait to be transported away. Credit: ITV News

Yet families here still line up to take strangers into their homes and feed them.

And Moldova is still taking in more per capita than anywhere else in Europe, despite their relatively tiny economy and precious few resources. But they have now sounded the alarm: their refugee system is close to the cusp of collapse. They are running out of room. They don’t have enough camp beds and mattresses, never mind the financial capability to support so many people in desperate need. They have asked the EU for help.

The UK’s foreign secretary today said the picture in Moldova was of “serious concern.”

It is expected that Odessa in Ukraine will be Putin’s next target, and that’s just 50km from the Moldovan border.

A Russian attack will create a fresh wave of refugees who will be heading for their nearest safe haven, and that has the potential to push Moldova’s support system over the edge. There is another reason for Liz Truss’s worry.

Moldova has its own pro-Russian breakaway region called Transnistria. The separatists in Transnistria have supported Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine and there is a fear that when he swoops south-west to Odessa, Transnistria and even Moldova will be in his sights.

Listen to our podcast for the latest analysis from our teams

Add in the fact Transnistria also hosts Europe’s biggest munitions depot and it becomes clear why this has the potential to become an explosive situation, opening a new frontier for Putin on the border with the EU and Nato. Tiny Moldova is not in either of these blocs, though seeing what’s happened to Ukraine it has just submitted an emergency application to join the EU - Putin’s crusade to their western border has given Moldova swift and remarkable clarity over which direction they would like their future to lie. But for the time being they still stand alone. Not protected by the shield of Nato, nor the clout of the EU. Moldova continues to step up for Ukrainians to provide a safe haven out of Putin’s reach. For now.