BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Maria had just bought a three-room apartment in Kyiv before Russia invaded Ukraine. Now she is in the Romanian capital Bucharest, rummaging for tiny socks for her four-month old daughter in a crate of free clothes for refugees.
Around her, other mothers who have fled Ukraine were stocking up on donated formula and diapers for their babies.
Maria left Kyiv with her daughter Amelia, seven-year old son Kirill and her parents after hearing explosions nearby. The maternity hospital where she gave birth four months ago no longer exists.
“In Kyiv we used to have a really nice life, but now I don’t have anything, just my children,” she said.
“I lost everything. Every morning when I wake up here and I hear planes, I’m afraid that the war can come here to Romania.”
She has rented an apartment in Bucharest and is waiting for her husband, who is working aboard a ship, to return to decide what to do next.
More than 500,000 people from Ukraine have fled to Romania since Feb. 24. Most have already moved further west, but just under 80,000 remain, primarily women with small children.
They are acutely aware of the dangers they could face if they remain in Ukraine.
Olga, a 27-year-old Ukrainian woman was seriously wounded while sheltering her baby from shrapnel blasts in Kyiv.
Russia denies targeting civilians, describing its actions as a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for Russia’s invasion of a democratic country of 44 million.
“Romania isn’t necessarily seen as a destination country, except for women with very small children who find it hard to go further away from Ukraine where their husbands are,” said Cosmina Simiean Nicolescu, general director of Bucharest city hall’s social assistance unit.
“We have a very large group of women with small children who will remain in Bucharest for a longer period of time, and the kids will need services, day care, kindergartens.”
Nicolescu has overseen the transformation of a large convention centre into a back-up shelter for refugees, which remains unused at the moment as smaller shelters and private lodging are still available.
The convention centre also offers a one-stop shop fuelled by donations, where mostly women come for essential basics. On Monday, just under 200 refugees visited the shop.
Among them was Oksana Safonova, a 36-year-old therapist who agonised over whether to flee with sons Vova and Igor, who are 5 and 3.
“It was difficult to decide because it would mean separating the children from their father, from our house, from our country,” she said.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)