From where I stand: Svetlana Babaș, Ukrainian Roma refugee

Originally published on UN Women's regional website for Europe and Central Asia

Svetlana Babaș, 19, is a Ukrainian Roma woman who had to flee her home as a result of Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine. She shares her story as a young mother who was worried about her fast approaching due date while escaping war and her journey to safety in a temporary placement center for refugees in central Moldova.

Svetlana Babaș, Ukrainian Roma refugee
Svetlana Babaș with her two daughters, newborn Adelina and 3-year-old Sofia, in the refugee center in Straseni, Moldova. Photo: UN Women/Maxime Fossat.

I was told that something was about to happen—a war maybe—however, I didn’t take it seriously. Being 35-weeks pregnant, my only thoughts were about the little miracle that was about to join our family and my elder daughter, Sofia.

I was sleeping next to her when our nightmare started. Upon the first sounds of bombing, I understood that this was happening for real. At the time, I was staying in Kotovsk, in Odessa Oblast, and less than 8 kilometers away a cruel war was getting started. With the help of my sister, who can drive and owns a car, I managed to escape with my daughter and go to another region in Ukraine in less than an hour. I left the house with only the clothes I was sleeping in and a jacket. I couldn’t think about anything other than taking our documents and my daughter’s medications. In just four days, there was no longer a safe place in our country and I had a single choice to make.

In front of me I had a huge baby bump, a 3-year-old and an enormous concern: to seek safety—anywhere, but safe. [A place where] my little girl will not tremble to the sounds of bombs and gunfire.
Our trip to Moldova was long and exhausting. Ukrainian people rushed to the border crossing in a desperate bid to reach safer conditions. Despite the freezing temperatures and the fact that I had nowhere to go, I held my daughter’s hand—we were together and out of harm’s way, which was all I needed.

I am impressed by the solidarity of volunteers and local organizations that are providing food, transportation and accommodation. They gave us everything we needed and helped us find shelter at a temporary placement center for refugees in Straseni, where I was thrilled to have a warm room just for us, hot water, a private bathroom and delicious food. Soon, a doctor came to visit the refugee center and, noticing my condition, checked on me immediately. She told me I was going to give birth very soon. I tried to convince the doctor that I still had a couple of weeks and many plans, including going to Belgium where my mother was waiting for me.

Some days later, my second daughter was born. The doctors from Moldova helped me deliver a healthy and beautiful girl, named Adelina. She's a warrior.

Here, in the refugee center, I was offered everything I needed for my newborn: a stroller, clothes, diapers, medications and even infant formula. The attitude towards us is very warm and welcoming. How do I feel about my husband and family staying behind? Frightened. However, as mothers, we must put our children first. I am convinced that women can relate to me.”

Svetlana Babas, 19, is a member of the Roma community in Ukraine and is one of more than 400,000 people from Ukraine who have crossed into the Republic of Moldova since Russia’s military invasion began on 24 February 2022.

According to a UN Women and IOM displacement survey, most refugees fleeing Ukraine are women and children. On the journey to refuge, women are shouldering an immense childcare responsibility compounded by family separation, trauma, limited financial resources, and a lack of clothing, food, personal hygiene supplies and other basic needs. Some 83 per cent of women are travelling with at least one child below the age of 18. A study conducted by UNFPA shows that an estimated 80,000 women in Ukraine are expected to give birth in the next three months, and many of them are without access to adequate maternal healthcare.

UN Women led the establishment of a United Nations Gender Task Force in Moldova and is now co-chairing it with UNHCR to ensure that the differentiated and essential needs of women and girls and other gender-related priorities are considered in humanitarian response.