Meeting with Basarab Bulgarians on the Romanian-Ukrainian border
Bulgarian National Radio’s correspondent in Ruse, Asya Pencheva, travelled the distance to Isaccea-Orlivka border crossing and presented her own story about what she saw on the way
This text is a transcript of the video posted by Asya Pencheva on her YouTube channel. She visited the Romanian-Ukrainian border on the Danube a few days after the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, which also led to an increased flow of migrants to the EU.
Everything will be fine. We don’t know when, but it will be.
Asya Pencheva: These words of Valentina, a Bulgarian from Odessa, were a pretty clear sign that the Ukrainian people have an untamed spirit.
When I went to Ukraine, I hesitated about the border crossings. The first and, according to preliminary information, the most convenient crossing was at Galati, on the Romanian side, where the border with the Republic of Moldova is located and almost next to Ukraine and the town of Reni. However, this gateway to Romania turned out not to be preferred by the refugees, as they would also lose time with the Moldovan authorities.
My first meeting was with Tarana.
Odessa is my home. I left everything. I took a few things and some food on the way. The rest stayed there. But what do you do when there’s a chance you’ll be blown up? You see what’s happening in Kiev and other cities? Buildings are being demolished. People have only one parking lot. And if God forbid we stay under the ruins, who will find us? We’re in a 12-story building. It’ll fall down and we’ll die there. You know that Ukraine has not prepared for war and that’s why we have no shelter, no good defense, no special air defense. If Ukraine was preparing for war all these years, it would have been ready for war. And we, it seems, were surprised…
Putin… who would have thought it? Although after the operation in the east (Donbass – ed.) one could assume that this was possible. But in spite of everything that happened, we kept believing it wouldn’t happen, especially with the neighbours in Belarus. Consider the fact that Belarus is an accomplice to murder, as it usually is: a murderer and an accomplice. I can’t believe it’s possible that I won’t go back. So many times I dream of returning home. My house is open, ransacked and broken into. And if we’re under Russian occupation, I won’t come back. I don’t want to live under Russian occupation.
The large flow of people is heading for Isaccea. From the opposite shore, people from the southern Ukrainian towns cross the Danube by ferry via the Orlovka checkpoint. That’s where we stayed – with people coming in large numbers. The first thing clearly visible was the volunteer checkpoint. We owe a deep reverence to these people who, with their own means and efforts, welcomed the Ukrainians and offered them, at two folding tables, the bare necessities at the beginning. Tea, soup, sandwiches, biscuits, nappies and baby food, fruit, disinfectants, water, juices. Another thing is that the next day these stall holders became 10, and the volunteers – dozens.
The mayor of Isaccea, Anastasie Moraru, stayed with his people until midnight on Friday. And the next morning we saw him again, early, with a thicker yak. All those who arrived from Ukraine were kindly invited to have a cup of tea or to support themselves. He was offered shelter in Isaccea or in the larger neighbouring town of Tulcea. Transport was provided to various points in Romania, including Bucharest airport. All this was provided free of charge. Here is what Anastasie Moraru, mayor of the border town of Isaccea, had to say.
Everything is very simple. Our desire is to help the citizens of Ukraine.
We managed to do everything here thanks to the funds of ordinary people and companies who wanted to help. We offer the possibility to stay overnight in the first days especially in Isca and Tulcea. As you can see, there are a lot of young people from Tulcea and Galati who volunteer their own cars to help move people around the towns. Our people in Isaccea are good people.
This is in the territory of Romania. Long live the Romanian people. On the other side of the barrier are the Ukrainians, at least half of whom speak a more archaic Bulgarian. What other language can they speak, because these are our Bessarabian Bulgarians who have been living for generations in southern Ukraine, in Odessa, Izmail and their surroundings?Most of them do not have Bulgarian passports, because they have not needed them until now. However, the Romanian border authorities have relaxed the entry regime and Ukrainians no longer need an invitation, a declaration for single-parent children, certificates or other documents. They entered with just a passport, which they all have. There were difficulties for young people from third countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia. It turned out that they were all navy or medical students in Odessa and were in a hurry to get home.
I graduated from university. Now I’m studying at a philological institute.
When the next ferry left between Romania and Ukraine, I thought I would be alone on board and that everyone was travelling in the opposite direction. I was surprised that once again there were Bulgarians with me who were heading to Odessa, to their families, so they wouldn’t be alone. Men are not allowed to leave the country, so Katia and Alexandra were in the passenger lounge.
From Bulgaria we return home to Odessa. That’s where our children are, that’s where our homes are. We can’t abandon our homeland and leave. It will be hard. If Bulgaria accepts us, we will come to Bulgaria.
They let us in. We can leave, but our people can’t. They’re rounding them all up. We’ll see what happens. We don’t know anything. We’re little people.
In the first few minutes on Ukrainian territory, just before the ferry docked, a Ukrainian army soldier banned all photos and mobile phone calls. This ban was not lifted until the documents and reasons for each entry were checked. From that point on, I had to make sure that there was indeed a 40-kilometre queue of cars, as reported on the news channels. This was not the case and, despite the presence of hundreds of people, there was no chaos, tension or aggression. Despite the military situation, border soldiers, police and customs officers followed the rules, treated everyone with understanding, did not allow any rearrangement in the columns and did not raise their voices at anyone. It’s amazing to see how these people resisted attempts to shuffle, to rearrange, to cross without a ticket on the ferry or without all the stamps on their documents.
Say on the radio that there is war in Ukraine!
That’s what one of the soldiers told me while stamping my passport. I said, “Yes, that’s why I’m here!”. Children came on board, from toddlers to teenagers. It was exciting to see how they started playing on the platform, running at each other, jumping, clinging to try to shake the ship. They showed off their pets, dogs, cats, a chinchilla, a guinea pig. They exchanged toys and kept telling their mothers they were fine.
As we sailed down the Danube, I realised again how close we are to these people because of the river that has always been another name for freedom. Because of the river that unites us, that is our street and that makes us neighbours in fact.
Photo: A support point at the border crossing ”Isaccea” (source: YouTube)
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