'Our people are being killed.' Ukrainians flee to tiny, poor Moldova as Russia escalates attacks

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This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

CHISINAU, Moldova – The hem of her purple skirt brushed the tile floor as Kristina Paleshev anxiously paced while cradling her wailing infant daughter Maria.

Sitting at a table with aid workers, forms and documents spread before him, her husband, Oleksandr, once again explained what had happened: The Russian artillery shelling that killed their neighbor. The heartbreaking decision to abandon their home in Mykolaiv. The frightening eight-hour drive across western Ukraine to the Moldovan border. The car breakdown just as they arrived in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. Their five kids who awake startled during the night at any loud noise, frightened they’re again under attack.

Kristina Paleshev, 38, places her hand over her heart as she talks about her family’s journey from their home in Mykolaiv, Ukraine to Chisinau, Moldova on March 19, 2022. This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

“We want to go back. I love my country and my town,” Paleshev, 38, said, as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I’m crying because our people are being killed.”

Paleshev, her husband and their kids are among the 3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. While most refugees, especially those from the Kyiv area, have flowed to Poland, an estimated 350,000 have entered Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.

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