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The Effects of the Ukrainian Conflict on Expats in Moldova

The writer (left) and his wife (second from left) dressed for winter with friends in Moldova.

Who leaves the comfort and convenience of home to enter a conflict zone?

“The winter will be tough in Europe, but it will be tougher for Ukrainians than for us.” — Jean-Paul Paloméros, Former NATO Supreme Commander, remarks in London on Sept 28, 2022

From the moment my wife and I arrived in Moldova in August, the only cloud hanging over us was a looming dread about the winter. We didn’t know the details then but generally we understood that Russia supplied heating oil to most of Europe, including Moldova, and because of their war in Ukraine this supply was in great jeopardy.

But we arrived on August 15th, coming directly from Uganda after completing a short-term teaching assignment at African Rural University for Professors Without Borders, and it was hot in Moldova. Much hotter than in Uganda, even.

So we didn’t think much about winter coming until we went to London at the end of September to attend a fundraising gala for Professors Without Borders. This is where we heard General Paloméros give a mesmerizing speech where he interwove quotes from Nelson Mandela and Aristotle with startling facts about your iPhone having 100,000 times more processing power than the computers used to send Apollo 11 to the moon.

During this speech, where at times General Paloméros seemed inspiring and at other times deflated about the senseless and barbaric Russian invasion of Ukraine, he both warned us and reassured us about the winter. Yes, it might be dark without electricity and cold without heating oil, but what is our inconvenience and discomfort compared to the devastation, destruction, and even death in Ukraine?

“Are you crazy for going there?”

Ever since we told our families we were coming to Moldova last spring, and answered their first question (”where is that?”) by informing them that Moldova bordered Ukraine, people have thought we were a little crazy for coming here.

Who leaves the comfort and convenience of the home they own and live in with their two cats to enter a conflict zone?

But the reality is that in our day-to-day lives so far (teaching and researching at Universitatea Pedagogica di Stat ‘Ion Creanga,’ and Universitatea de Stat din Moldova), Brieanne and I haven’t really had to think much about the war at all.

In early October the first reports of Russian missiles flying over Moldova came in, and by the end of October there was a report about Ukrainian missile defence shooting down one of those missiles which then crashed in Moldova. This is not a large country, so this wasn’t actually very far from us here in the capital.

Ukrainian fighters are the real heroes

But Ukrainians have been fighting valiantly since the invasion began on February 24th and have the upper hand. So, we feel safe here in Moldova. The goal of Ukraine now is not only to reclaim territory initially conquered by Russia in the first few weeks of the war–like they did by pushing the Russians out of Kherson this week—but also to reclaim Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014.

The heroism of the Ukrainian fighters has both destroyed the myth of Russian supremacy in the region, and decimated any legacy that Putin thought he was creating. Reports are now that Putin is unwell, in hiding, and afraid for his death by natural, or unnatural, causes.

So, how does the war next door impact my wife and I? If anything, instead of scaring us, it inspires us. Instead of disturbing or distressing us, it encourages us. Heroes are all around us. Ukrainians are fighting hand-to-hand, hacking Russian TV stations and showing anti-war messages, and even tricking Russian soldiers into giving away their positions by catfishing them on social media and bombing locations derived from photos the Russian soldiers think they’re sending to attractive Ukrainian girls.

If my wife and I have to wear an extra sweater, or put an extra blanket on the bed, or even burn candles instead of turning on all the lights, this is a small price to pay compared to how the Ukrainians are suffering.

The truth is, Romania has stepped-in and agreed to meet 90 percent of Moldova’s electricity needs, and things will be okay in Moldova this winter. As General Paloméros said, this winter will be tougher than usual in Europe, but it will be much tougher for the Ukrainians, so we won’t think of complaining.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Robert Eckhart

Bob Eckhart is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Moldova. He has managed language programs in China, Turkey, and Indonesia and was previously the Executive Director of ESL Programs at Ohio State University. Bob was also a Fulbright Scholar in Belarus in 2018.

Website: www.instagram.com/bobeckhart

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