Look for the orange vest: Ukrainians in Romania help others

Many Ukrainian volunteers in Romania are helping new refugees sort out their lives after the trauma of fleeing the war.

A Urkrainian volunteer wearing an orange vest gestures in the distance as she stands next to a group of people.

Ukrainian volunteer Anastasiia Haiduk points out at a departure board for Ukrainian refugees at Bucharest's North Railway Station in Romania, Saturday, April 23, 2022. Nearly 5.2 million Ukrainians have fled since Russia's invasion, most have entered countries on Ukraine's western border: nearly 2.9 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, while 810,000 others have fled to Romania and 510,000 have crossed into Hungary since the war began.(Chisato Tanaka/AP)

Elena Trofimchuk fled Ukraine to Romania more than a month ago. She now sees Bucharest’s North Railway Station as a second home.

She doesn’t live there, but it’s where she spends most of her day welcoming fellow Ukrainian refugees escaping from Russia’s war and helping them sort out tickets, accommodation and onward destinations.

The 26-year-old said that keeping herself busy and useful keeps her from dwelling on Russia’s shelling of her hometown, Odesa, where many of her friends remain.

“If you sit and do nothing, you can just become crazy because you’re always searching for news. It’s very hard. So here I can help people buy tickets and find accommodations. I even help Romanians in the kitchen,” Trofimchuk said.

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Before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, she worked as a photographer.

Trofimchuk is just one of many orange-vested Ukrainian volunteers working at the station.

Ukrainian volunteer Vitalii Ivanchuk flew all the way from Sri Lanka where he lived with his Ukrainian girlfriend to help refugees coming into Romania.

The 29-year-old IT developer said that many Ukrainians have a tough time communicating with Romanians, and volunteers who can speak both Ukrainian and English are in high demand.

His girlfriend, Anastasiia Haiduk, quit her investment job shortly after the war started and decided to volunteer at the station until the war ends and she can be reunited with her family in Ukraine.

The Romanian government is currently giving away free train tickets to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Romania that they can use to travel on to Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Trofimchuk said she was moved by the warm welcome and the Romanians’ show of solidarity with Ukraine.

“Every Romanian person wants to help. They’re very friendly. And I was shocked about this. I’m so happy that everyone wants to help,” Trofimchuk said.

Nearly 5.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia’s war on Feb. 24, according to data from the U.N. refugee agency.

Most have entered countries on Ukraine’s western border: more than 3 million people have fled to Poland, while more than 817,000 others have fled to Romania and around 520,000 have crossed into Hungary, UNHCR statistics show.

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For some Ukrainian volunteers, their Saturday evening ritual is to join a weekly demonstration at the Russian Embassy in Bucharest along with Ukrainian residents and Romanians.

Station volunteers in Bucharest say they are now seeing an increasing number of arrivals from Odesa following Russian missile attacks on the southern Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea.

But Trofimchuk skipped a recent protest, saying she expected people to arrive from her hometown.

“I will stay at the station as late as I can, because there might be people who need my help,” Trofimchuk said.

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