'It’s not home' - The Ukrainian families trapped in a foreign land

ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman reports from Romania, where a UK-funded youth centre is teaching Ukrainians language skills and bringing them together with locals

The queue in the cold forms an hour before the doors open. When they do, the atmosphere is frantic.

It’s an unusual sight, outside a university planetarium.

But just once a fortnight, it’s transformed by the Romanian Red Cross into a foodbank, for Ukrainian families who can’t afford to live without it.

Crowding round the entrance are around a hundred people, mostly mothers, some with their children. The rest are elderly men and women.

I’m in Suceava, a town thirty miles from Romania’s border with Ukraine, where a year ago, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the war sought safety.

Like the conflict, their need for help hasn’t stopped.

It is mostly mothers who have fled the Ukraine with their children who use the Romanian Red Cross food bank Credit: ITV News

Today, the carrier bags being given out include packets of rice and sugar. Mothers surround a volunteer with a cardboard box, filled with children’s medicines.

“They don’t have any income,” explains Corneliu Dediu, the director of the local Red Cross. “When the war started, only women and children were allowed to leave Ukraine.

“It’s difficult, being in a foreign country, to work and take care of the children, because they don’t speak Romanian.”

It’s not hard to imagine how difficult that would be for anyone suddenly forced to live their life in a foreign country.

One little girl who has been brought along to the foodbank by her mother Credit: ITV News

I’m introduced to Yulia. She fled here with her three young children and little else.

“The support is very important for our family,” she tells me. “We received food and clothes for the children.

“It helps us with our family budget, and support for Ukrainians… it’s more than just food, it’s warmth and care for us.”

Yulia Ivanivna, who left Ukraine with her three children, told ITV News the extra support remains vital Credit: ITV News

There are more than 100,000 Ukrainian people who’ve made their home in Romania. It was meant to be temporary. They never intended to still be here after twelve months.

But young Ukrainians especially can’t afford to just wait for the war to end.

At a youth centre nearby, a group of teenagers are sitting round a table, learning Romanian,

In the next room, another group are doing yoga.

“In the community where they are living, we are avoiding segregation, avoiding conflict,” says Mihai Vilcea, of Romania’s National Youth Federation, which runs the project.

The centre is open to local teenagers too, to help young Ukrainians make friends and integrate in their host country.

“We need young people equipped with skills, with knowledge, to be able to rebuild Ukraine,” he tells me, “and also to take care of the communities they’re developing now.”

The project is being funded by aid money raised in the UK. Earlier this month, the Disasters Emergency Committee announced its Ukraine Appeal has raised more than £400 million in the last year.

Around a fifth of that has been spent in Romania, where it’s now helping Ukrainians build a new future, in a foreign land.

Angelina, 16, who dreams of being a ballerina when she returns to Ukraine and her mum Viktoria Credit: AP

Among them is 16-year-old Angelina, who invites me back to her small apartment to meet her mum, Viktoria.

Over some delicious Ukrainian sweet pastries, they tell me of their struggles to adjust to their new life here. They are grateful for the support, which has included counselling to help cope with the enforced upheaval of the last year.

For Angelina, who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer, there is hope, but also an inescapable sadness.

“It was very hard to understand that all the dreams I had, it will be harder to make them happen because of the situation,” she tells me in impeccable English.

Helping her secure those dreams is why support for Ukrainian people remains just as important, a year into the conflict.

“What do you hope for?” I ask her.

Her response is heartbreakingly simple.

“That the war will finish soon and I will go home. And that everything will be fine.”

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