Moldova: the small country facing a big war

As the war in Ukraine escalates, Moldova, a small country at the western border of the conflict, prepares for the worst scenario. Promo-LEX is a Moldovan human rights organisation and a member of our SOS-Torture Network. Their strategic advisor Alexandru Postica agreed to answer a few questions about the atmosphere in the country.

Moldova, a small and poor country, is currently receiving tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees – mostly women and children - fleeing the Russian invasion. How are the authorities coping?

As of March 17, more than 337 215 refugees from Ukraine have crossed the border of the Republic of Moldova. More than 100,000 have decided to stay in Moldova, the vast majority of them women and children. Moldova currently has the largest number of refugees in the world, compared to its active population. This is a major challenge for a small and relatively poor country. But State authorities, civil society and the general population have managed to cope with the crisis. To date, almost 80 temporary refugee placement centres have been set up. A lot of Ukrainians have also found shelter with relatives and acquaintances from all over the country.

A crisis management center has been set up. Hundreds of volunteers help with providing first aid and managing the flow of refugees, and aid from external partners has begun to arrive. Several regular routes (by bus, train, plane) have been created for Ukrainian citizens, who transit through the Republic of Moldova to reach another European country. We are aware that more efforts will be needed, but we are ready to face this challenge. It is our duty to help these people who had to leave their homes to save their lives.

A bit like Ukraine, Moldova has its own separatist region that is in Moscow’s orbit, Transnistria. Are you and people around you afraid of what might come next?

In Tiraspol, there have been several rallies in support of the Russian Federation and its invasion of Ukraine. All political parties in the region support the invasion, which is a clear indication of the influence of Moscow on the democratic institutions.

The Transnistria enclave is a real danger to the security not only of Ukraine but also of Moldova and Romania. It is estimated that about 20,000 tons of ammunition are stored in Cobasna, in the north of the Transnistrian secessionist region. According to open sources, about 1,200 Russian troops are deployed there, to ensure the protection of the largest weapons depot in Eastern Europe. There are also a Russian peacekeeping contingent, soldiers enlisted in the so-called Transnistrian army, and other troops such as Kazakhs, mercenaries, volunteers, etc. We count a total about 10,000 soldiers with considerable military equipment in the region.

Some news portals reported that rockets had been fired from the Transnistrian region towards the Odessa region and the town of Vinita in northwestern Ukraine. This was later denied by the authorities. However, given the close distance of the Transnistrian region to major strategic cities such as Odessa and Vinita, the presence of ammunition and military personnel in this region poses a real danger to the security of both states (Moldova and Ukraine).

The Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court has already opened an investigation into possible war crimes following the Russian invasion. What should be done to support criminal accountability and how can civil society in Moldova help in this respect?

This war has a hybrid form: along with the military war there is also a disinformation one. Tens of thousands of people pass through Moldova every day Many of them are witnesses to the crimes committed on the Ukrainian territory. The bodies investigating war crimes need to get access to this first-hand information about what is happening in the war zone. Refugees from Ukraine first need humanitarian assistance and psychological support. But the Promo-LEX Association also tries to inform them that they have the right to submit statements and present evidence that could be used in a potential trial by the International Criminal Court. This is how we collect statements and evidence about the war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Alexandru Postica

Alexandru Postica is the Strategic Advisor for the Moldovan human rights organization Promo-LEX.