Created on:
April 26, 2022

Strategic Insights into the Ukrainian-Russian War – Human Displacement: A Romanian Perspective

Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically changed many international relations, geopolitical and societal landscapes. The Policy Insights Forum (PIF), in partnership with Samuel Associates, has decided to cut through the noise around the War by interviewing various experts each week. This supplementary article was added to our 5-Part Series and authored by Jay Heisler, a Policy Research Associate with the PIF who is currently volunteering on the U.S. side of the Ukraine evacuation.

This week, we will discuss border issues in a fast-moving conflict with Dr. Sebastian Nastuta. A former sociologist, Sebastian is now a senior data scientist in the educational sector in London, UK. Sebastian is from Iasi, North-East of Romania, a quiet town closer to the Romanian-Ukrainian border. Sebastian has been keeping up with events there through his native language and familial ties. He has kindly shared with us some of his personal observations and insights.

There were three takeaways from our discussion with Sebastian. First, about racism on the border, second, about the importance of Romania as a humanitarian hub, and third, about avoiding possible risks of human trafficking.

First, we discussed the most traumatizing controversy at Ukraine's various borders: the racism demonstrated toward African and Indian students attempting to flee the country. In several well-publicized incidents, African and Indian students were denied access to trains to the border, access to transport across the border, and access to the border itself. Sebastian explained that while Kiev and other large cities are multicultural and internationalized, many towns on Ukraine’s Western border have had little comparable exposure to the rest of the world. "Consequently, xenophobic attitudes can occur most often."  

Sebastian also pointed to a little-explored aspect of the racist incidents on the border: corruption was commonplace on the borders, according to anecdotal evidence and third-party accounts.

“In the first days, you apparently had to give a bribe to border officers to move faster out of Ukraine,” Sebastian explained. “I’m not aware of any kind of corruption case or any kind of mass media highlighting this,” he added.

Second, we discussed the importance of Romania as a humanitarian hub. Sebastian explained that the Romanian people have historical animosity with many of their neighbours, specifically Russia, Poland, Turkey and Hungary. However, Sebastian notes that Romanians are, despite these conflicts, often close with the same countries politically and happy to work with them further.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left Romania ill at ease. Sebastian notes that it is not just Poland that is seen as a likely future target if Russia continues to try to invade neighbouring countries. Northeast Romania is commonly speculated to be a likely Russian target as well.

Sebastian says Romanians are happy to accept refugees from Ukraine.

"In Romania, the population was massively welcoming of the refugees," Sebastian told us." In the first days, there was a massive, massive wave of sympathy. Normal people were saying ‘please, I have a room, you can send Ukrainian refugees to stay in my home’."

Third, Sebastian warned about the possible risks of human trafficking. He explained that when large numbers of refugees move across borders or, in Ukraine’s case, within the Ukrainian border as well, human trafficking cases are inevitable.

“As long as these kinds of events happen, “sharks” human traffickers (organized crime) are coming to approach vulnerable people,” Sebastian said.

“The ideal thing that should happen is for people to keep in contact with other people using, when possible, organizational and formal channels.”

Sebastian added that sometimes traffickers "Might look like nice people but might have evil intentions."

Despite the physical devastation of the War to the Ukrainian landscape and omnipresence in the media, its people remain vulnerable to tremendous dangers both inside the country and as they exit out to safe havens in Europe and elsewhere.

This is a supplemental article to our 5-PartSeries, “Strategic Insights into the Ukrainian-Russian War”. Other articles will also be published to highlight the ongoing conflict from various international subject matter experts, scholars and those personally affected by the War in Ukraine.

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