Over two long days in March, our incredible teams from Ukraine and Romania collaborated closely to evacuate 63 vulnerable children, carers and their families from Ukraine.
Planning for evacuation
Led by country directors Halyna Postoliuk and Stefan Darabus, Ukrainian and Romanian colleagues have worked together to prepare, evacuate and safely receive 43 vulnerable children, plus 11 adult support staff and carers and their families (9 other children), from the ‘It’s good at home’ centre in Dnipropetrovsk to a safe location in Iași, over the border in Romania.
We had previously relocated the children from the original centre to a safer space – but no space feels safe for children in Dnipro after a week of bombing. Dnipro – the second largest Oblast in the country – is currently under heavy fire. We deemed it essential to the young people’s continued safety to move them. The children were scared, and in live danger of attack.
Supported every step of the way by central operations staff and our senior management team, the children have been evacuated to Romania, following an invitation and guarantee from the Romanian authorities that fulfilled all the legal requirements the Ukraine government has for moving vulnerable children across borders. It was a huge coordination effort, an arduous journey, and not without risks.
Who are the evacuees?
43 vulnerable children, 11 adult support staff and carers, 9 of those workers’ children. One of the children had additional medical needs. Seven of them are babies (under three years).
A long, arduous journey
They left Dnipro at 8:30pm Wednesday 16 March evening by train, and arrived at Mukachevo station, three hours bus ride from the border at midnight that night. A coach met them to cross into Romania; our Ukrainian social work team had asked for the coach to arrive with hot water to make baby food, motion sickness tablets which are not currently available in Ukraine, and a doctor.
Overall, it took 26 hours to reach the Romanian border.
They finally arrived across the border on Friday 18 March, at 3.49 in the morning; many of the younger children were helped across the border by Ukrainian townspeople.
At the border, they were met by our team in Romania, and customs registration then took 4 hours or so. Our Ukrainian colleague Dasha had all their papers and was invested with the legal responsibility required to register them.
Once finished at the border, the children transferred to a large bus, minivan and car for the final leg. The drive to the children’s centre in Romania was particularly long: some of the children got car sick, some of them needed the bathroom – just like any children on a long journey.
Having survived the ten-hour coach drive to Iași, the children and families could finally enter the centre, where our Romanian team had been working round the clock to prepare safe refuge.
Safe at last
Our Romanian colleagues prepared emergency accommodation at a centre previously used for children’s services in Iași. The children are under the care of a multidisciplinary team from the local child protection department, including a psychologist, therapists and social workers who will identify all their medical and service needs, supported by our staff. After their initial assessment, they will officially receive a placement solution within the child protection system in Romania. The children are in one small group home (those who were in a similar facility in Ukraine) and the others are in a service centre that has been transformed into a more residential facility by putting emergency beds in. These children will remain safe here until they can return to Ukraine.
Our team provided support to Iași county to meet the children’s needs. Radu Tohătan, one of our Romanian social workers, is working with the local child protection department to identify what basic needs they have in terms of clothing, medical treatments etc.
They are safe now.
“These children were evacuated in a coordinated fashion, only when the time was right, by the right professionals, and in conjunction with local authorities in Ukraine and in Romania. It was a long journey, but the children are now safe and well, and receiving psychological support.
We are ensuring that these children get what we demand for every child. They are tracked. That they are relocated to temporary safe accommodation, close to Ukraine. That they are not lost into far away institutions around the world, or at risk of trafficking. That they are relocated with their care-givers (and their carers’ families) – the ones who know best the children’s individual needs, treatments or simply their preferences. They’ve been kept together.
This evacuation is an example of best practice. And we demand the same for the 100,000 children left behind in Ukrainian orphanages.”Robert Ion, Spokesperson, Hope and Homes for Children Romania