In the cramped kitchen, enveloped by a mix of scents and stiflingly hot air, Yana, 40, prepares the thirtieth meal for the day – pasta carbonara. It is noon, and the small restaurant in Constanta, Romania, has been taken over by a swarm of people impatiently waiting for their lunch.
Yana has worked as a cook at the local restaurant in Constanta for a few months now. As she takes over the next order, she feels her entire body becoming heavier. She notices how her legs have swollen so much that the pair of sneakers she wore seven months ago are now too tight for her feet.
Yana is six months pregnant, and the 12-hour shift seems unending. When she gets home in the evening, she is wracked with a sharp pain in her lower back.
This is her third job since leaving war-torn Dnipro, a city in eastern Ukraine. Previously, she worked as a housekeeper and cleaner in a hotel in Bulgaria. “I worked wherever there was a job to be done,” Yana said, her eyes welling up with tears.
“Changing to a new country every few months was extremely tough,” she went on. After spending more than three months in Bulgaria, Yana and her 12-year-old son moved to Romania. The language barrier prevented her from applying for highly qualified positions.
She currently earns 500 euros per month while working five days a week. Nonetheless, her salary is insufficient to meet her housing and food costs. “The further along I am in my pregnancy, the harder it gets to endure 12-hour shifts,” she says.
In her struggle to provide for her son’s basic needs, she failed to anticipate how she would pay for all pregnancy healthcare costs. “There is no insurance to cover that,” she explains. Childbirth surgery is expensive, as her entire paycheck is spent on housing and food.
The thought of being forced by war to give birth in a cold basement, where mildew penetrates even the most concealed surfaces, or in an underground station, surrounded by scores of people escaping shelling, ravished her.
She couldn’t risk the life of her unborn child, but now refugee status comes with its own set of challenges. “What will I do when my second child is born?” she wonders, despair visible in her almond-shaped eyes.
“For the first several months, I won’t be able to work,” she continues. “How will feed my two children?”
Yana registered for World Vision’s cash assistance program, supported by Giro555, enabling her to receive multipurpose cash.
Cash assistance supports refugees in meeting basic necessities such as clothing, shelter, and food.
Giro555 also sponsors the cash assistance program for elderly protection, which allows adults over 60 to receive additional income, as well as cash assistance for child protection, which is provided to children up to the age of 17.
“Cash assistance supports refugees in meeting basic necessities such as clothing, shelter, and food,” explains Nataliia Cholan, World Vision’s Cash and Voucher Programming Coordinator.
She adds, “Unlike in-kind help, cash assistance empowers refugees by enabling them to make decisions tailored to their specific needs. They are given authority and control over their lives, while maintaining their dignity.”
“I can pay my food expenses with the money received from World Vision,” says Yana. “I just want to take care of my children’s urgent needs right now; I don’t want anything else,” she adds.
At the end of this day, she will have added another week to the 22 weeks she has not heard from her partner in Ukraine. Time is no longer an indicator. Since the last video call with her husband, everything has lost its essence.
Every day has become about surviving, not living.
Her partner was officially reported missing. “He left for the war but never came back,” says Yana, swallowing and attempting to hold back the tears that stream down her pale cheeks.
Only two years ago, her life looked completely different. She had an entire family by her side. She had a reputable job, managing the train station in her city. Most importantly, she envisioned a secure future for her children, with both parents loving and supporting them.
“Even though my soul is torn to shreds inside, I must act strong,” adds Yana, closing her eyes for a moment. She wipes away another tear, takes a deep breath, and rushes back to make it in time for her shift.
World Vision Ukraine Crisis Response in Romania has reached more than 282,000 Ukrainian refugees, assisting with cash, education, health, psychosocial support, and protection programs. Since the start of the war, over 113,000 refugees across the country have had their basic needs addressed.
GIRO555 is a Netherlands Emergency Organizations Alliance composed of 11 cooperating aid organizations joining forces to respond to global emergencies.
Story and photos by Laurentia Jora, Romania and Moldova Communications Coordinator