It is not just material goods
The refugees who go to the Chisinau Dignity Centre have come from a variety of backgrounds: some are rich, others poor; some are ill, some are well; some got out before the conflict was on top of them, others left after weeks or months of bombing; some lost their homes under missile attacks and fighting, others have a home to return to (at least for now) should the time eventually come when they can go back.
Many have relatives who have died and many still support relatives back in Ukraine. And almost all are women and children – the majority of men remain in Ukraine as part of the resistance to the invasion. Everyone is in a state of separation and many have been drawn into the horrors of war.
What do the refugees who use the Dignity Centre say about the place?
‘It touches the hearts of my community who come here…. how people from abroad come to support our Ukrainian people…they can see that they are not alone in their situation…’
Revealing just a part of that situation, one person explained that:
‘There is constantly stress, tension, reading the news, sending some money. Even when you are here you are still there – you cannot leave it, your heart and mind stay there…You leave everything behind, not something, no everything even your childhood memories like where you fell in love for the first time…. we had to leave, we did not have a choice. We have to adapt to a new country and place. We must adapt to our loss here…And must find jobs here…For older women it is much harder still …Somehow we hope that it will end soon and we can go back and lead our lives’
The shop is not just a functional point of sale – volunteers are emotionally open and smile.
‘The interior is really welcoming, convenient, friendly, warm …And the volunteers are play music and you immediately see that cosy effect… there is a translator who speaks our language and that is also gentle and welcoming….leaving Ukraine has not been easy is many ways, especially psychologically, but this place is soothing’
‘We appreciate and value everything at the Dignity Centre. I do not take it for granted…The volunteers bring sweets and biscuits, they are so generous and do not limit themselves by just what they are supposed to do…There is thought, care and heart in there…it is not just routine here’
‘We come to the Dignity Centre for more than food we want the communication. I feel the warm attitude from the people here…. it is a meeting point for little conversations between Ukrainians…The attitude and feeling is a primary experience for users – it is not secondary to the food…A warm attitude is important because it is a family attitude’
The refugees were worried, stoical and grateful
‘We are really grateful for living in this country but afraid too for the men left in our country and praying for them. They did not choose to be soldiers and fight. Back home there is no electricity, no water and sirens are going off because of the air raids’
‘I’m touched that people from another country can give their finance to help…many of the people I speak to in my community are thankful [for the Dignity Centre] but very sad because they can’t go back to their country and now depend on other people who give time and money’
‘We are really grateful for the help we received but I also want to say something has changed in many of us – we have seen the world from the other side and, if something else happens, we will be there giving support to others because we see how important it is’
The Dignity Centre offers a safe place for people to help support each other not just with material things like food, but also with warmth, compassion, respect and a sense of solidarity.
And it is just a temporary measure until the refugees are able to find their way of living again, without the severing consequences of violent conflict affecting their lives.
This is the third in our series of articles from Dr Jonathan Newman a social anthropologist and market researcher who conducted fieldwork in the Chisinau Dignity Centre in February 2023.