24 February marks one year since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In neighbouring countries, the focus of aid for refugee families is shifting from emergency support to longer-term integration. Activities of the leading Swiss organisation for children's aid Terre des hommes in Romania show how Ukrainian children can be successfully integrated. However, the situation remains fragile.
The war in Ukraine, lasting one year as of 24 February, has forced millions of families to flee their homes. This continues to be a challenge for host countries. The Swiss organisation for children's aid Terre des hommes (Tdh) supports refugee families in neighbouring countries of Ukraine such as Romania, where almost 109,000 refugees from Ukraine have been recorded*. In the country, the focus of assistance is increasingly shifting from short-term emergency support to longer-term integration.
Activities for Ukrainian and Romanian children
"Since the beginning of the war, the needs of Ukrainian refugee families have changed. We are adapting our activities to the families who will stay here for a longer period of time," says Radu Racareanu, Tdh Programme Manager for emergency response in Romania.
While a year ago Tdh mainly provided information and translation services as well as child-friendly spaces for Ukrainian refugee families in Romania, the organisation now supports families in settling into their new homes. In addition, it offers regular psychosocial support for children. Tdh is increasingly focusing on strengthening and collaborating with the local education system and social work to actively support refugee children in their long-term integration. In this context, it is crucial for sustainable integration that not only Ukrainian but also local children are involved in activities.
Eleven-year-old Timofey fled with his family from Zhytomyr, a city in western Ukraine, to Bucharest. There, he takes part in psychosocial activities provided by Tdh that help to relieve stress and regain a sense of normality through contact with peers. Timofey is also attending the recently opened Resilience Innovation Facility, an innovative and safe space where young refugees can creatively explore their talents and develop their digital skills together with Romanian children and young people. Moreover, they are getting prepared for a future field of activity that will benefit them regardless of where they live.
"I feel safe and protected in Romania, like I used to at home," says Timofey. “I am learning Romanian and I already know many words. That helps me communicate with my peers and gives me the feeling that I am not a stranger here, that I am not abandoned."
The situation remains fragile
Although the integration of Ukrainian families in Romania is working well, also thanks to great solidarity of the Romanian population, continuous efforts are required. During the cold months, Tdh offers winter clothing and food to ensure that everyone receives the support they need. The risk remains that the situation could change rapidly depending on the development of the war and the economy in Ukraine.
"A sudden change in the number of arrivals could overwhelm the social infrastructure in Romania, which is already overburdened by the needs of the local population," says Radu Racareanu.
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Tdh has been supporting Ukrainian refugee families in Hungary, Moldova and Romania and providing psychological support for children and mothers. In Romania, where according to UNHCR almost 109,000 Ukrainian refugees have been recorded, Tdh has assisted more than 11,000 refugees in 2022. Furthermore, Tdh provides humanitarian aid to internally displaced families in western Ukraine.
The Terre des hommes Foundation (Tdh) is the leading Swiss organisation for children's aid. We aspire to a world in which the rights of children, as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are always respected. A world in which children can thrive in safe environments and become agents of change they wish to see in their lives.
Photo: © Tdh/Petrut Calinescu