Rubryka: How a community of Ukranian refugees created a shared space from scratch

Nearly 6.5 million Ukrainians were forced to flee their home country because of Russia’s full-scale war. In a new location, they often feel lost and confused and struggle to regain a sense of belonging. Rubryka tells the story of a project that helped Ukrainians displaced in Romania find a community, according to Rubryka.

Russia’s ongoing war has changed the lives of Ukrainians forever. Since 2022, many had to flee their home to save themselves and their children. Fortunately, countries worldwide, including the European Union members, accepted Ukrainian refugees and gave them the need shelter.

Within the EU, Romania ranks eighth in the list of nations that accepted the largest number of Ukrainian refugees. As of today, nearly 78,000 Ukrainians live in this southeastern European country.

In February 2024, the humanitarian organization Save the Children Romania surveyed Ukrainian refugees. The poll found that besides financial difficulties, job searching, and language barriers, the main problems for those who found refuge in Romania from the war were homesickness and no friends and relatives nearby.

In the northwestern Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, refugees from different parts of Ukraine decided to establish the Ukrainian House. Assisted by a local community organization, this educational and cultural center provides humanitarian aid and undertakes educational initiatives. Ukrainian volunteers contribute by sharing their skills, organizing various events, and supporting each other.

Kateryna Yerska, a representative of the Ukrainian House in Cluj-Napoca, shared how the hub operates and brings together Ukrainian and Romanian communities.

Cluj-Napoca is an ancient city with a population of over 300,000. It is unofficially considered the capital of Transylvania, a region in central Romania known for medieval towns and castles, such as Bran Castle and the legend of Dracula.

“It’s hard to say how many Ukrainians are currently here because many continue to live in two countries, constantly traveling back and forth,” says Kateryna Yerska, the communications officer of the Ukrainian House. “Our community density is over a thousand people, and there are probably between 3,000 and 5,000 adults and children who received temporary protection in the city.”

Kateryna is from Mariupol, a southeastern Ukrainian city. In mid-March 2022, she managed to escape from the blockaded city, where she worked in a volunteer center at the beginning of Russia’s large-scale invasion. When street battles began in the city center, the humanitarian hub’s staff decided to evacuate as further volunteer activities became life-threatening.

The next day, a Russian shell hit Kateryna’s volunteer center. The evacuation car carrying her and other Mariupol residents was also shelled at a checkpoint of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” by one of the militants. Kateryna narrowly escaped — bullets flew over her head. After the evacuation, Kateryna Yerska settled in the southern city of Odesa and underwent rehabilitation and treatment. When Russia intensified its attacks on Odesa, she moved to Romania. Kateryna has been living in Cluj-Napoca for over a year now.

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