By Michelle Nichols
CHISINAU (Reuters) -The United States will give Moldova $50 million to help it cope with the impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during a visit to the former Soviet republic on Sunday.
She said the funding would support programs, training and equipment for border management, efforts to counter human trafficking, help to improve accountability and transparency in the justice sector, and combat corruption and cybercrime.
Nearly 400,000 refugees have already fled Ukraine through Moldova, with about a quarter remaining in the country, since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow says it is carrying out a “special military operation” that aims to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure.
An emotional Irina Rygik, 30, who worked as a cleaner in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, traveled to Moldova on March 27 with her 3-year-old daughter. Through a translator, she said her apartment building was bombed and she sheltered in the basement with her daughter until a neighbor offered to take them to Moldova.
Rygik was one of four women who had lunch with Thomas-Greenfield on Sunday when she toured the refugee center where they are living. Rygik told Thomas-Greenfield that her daughter had just started to smile again.
“Today was an extraordinary experience for me. It was very emotional. It was very sad. But at the same time, I saw the courage and the resilience of these women,” Thomas-Greenfield, who is due to visit Romania on Monday, told reporters.
The money pledged to Moldova by the United States on Sunday comes on top of $30 million announced last month to assist refugee relief efforts in Moldova over the next six months.
Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, is one of Europe’s poorest countries and has 2.6 million people. Like Ukraine it aspires to join the EU.
Around half the Ukrainian refugees in Moldova are children and the rest are mainly women, U.N. and aid groups said.
“You have welcomed them with open arms,” Thomas-Greenfield praised Moldova’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita during a news conference on Sunday.
Thomas-Greenfield also toured a warehouse where the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is storing goods including tents, blankets, sleeping bags and solar lamps in case needed for what UNHCR supply officer, Arben Hajdini, dubbed the “Odesa scenario” of some of the port city’s 1 million residents coming over Moldova’s border for refuge.
Russian attacks struck “critical infrastructure” near Odesa, local officials said on Sunday.
Ukraine also fears Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniestria could be used as a new front to put further pressure on Odesa. Russian troops are stationed there, despite repeated calls by Moldova for them to leave.
“Certainly, there are risks related to the separatist region in the eastern part of the country and we need to be vigilant. However, we see no specific plans so far for engaging Moldova in this conflict,” Gavrilita said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols,Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Lisa Shumaker)