The Gara de Nord train station in Bucharest is a busy place; it’s Romania’s main rail connection point with the rest of Europe. Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, thousands of people fleeing the conflict have passed through this station.
The Romanian Red Cross, with its partners, runs a quiet refuge in the midst of the bustle, a place for women and children to wait for connecting trains or other onward travel.
Olena travels with her three-year-old son Marat, her sister, Irina, and her nephews, Yaroslav, 7, and Rostyslav, 1. Mid-afternoon, they arrive, one stop in a multi-day journey from where they were staying in Bulgaria via Hungary to Italy.
The kids play with a ball on colourful mats. Through a translator, Olena speaks about how difficult it is to figure out what to do next – wishing she could go home to re-join her husband and second son, but also thinking ahead to September when she’ll have to enrol her three-year-old in kindergarten.
The Red Cross provides the family with dinner, food for the train, and a suitcase so they can store the warm clothes they wore when they fled in March.
At the station, Red Cross volunteers help to arrange tickets for onward travel, and make sure people know where and when to catch the next train.
In the waiting room strangers quickly become friends as refugees from Ukraine share stories, pass on advice, and realise they will be on the same train to Budapest. Olena speaks with another young mom who left Ukraine with her children when the medicines they required were no longer available. She constantly checks her phone for updates from friends and her mother who she has left behind.
Another young family comes in, a mother, two children, and a small pet dog. The dog runs around the play area much to the delight of Marat and the other children, whose shrieks of laughter show that for a moment they can be kids again.
At 9:30 p.m. these new communities pack up and start towards the platform. Red Cross volunteers make sure the families are safely on their way, before preparing for the next arrivals.
Australian Red Cross is supporting new arrivals into Romania and other European countries through the Ukraine Crisis Appeal. The Appeal supports Red Cross and Red Crescent partners to address immediate and longer terms needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, including to people who are displaced. This includes emergency relief assistance such as shelter, health, water and sanitation. You can make a difference for people like Olena. Donate here: www.redcross.org.au/ukraine