Wake-up call for Ukraine’s neighbors

For tiny Moldova, the war and refugee influx help stir greater reform.

A small child, who is part of a family who fled from Ukraine and has been taken in by a local family, shows a drawing she made in Chisinau, Moldova, March 7.


For many countries, Russia’s war on Ukraine has been an eye-opener about the need to correct their ways – none more so than the country of Moldova, Ukraine’s smallest neighbor. The landlocked nation of 4 million – one of Europe’s poorest – is now on a race to reform.

A week after the invasion, Moldova officially applied for European Union membership. “We want to ... be part of the free world,” said President Maia Sandu, who has since been invited to give a commencement speech at Harvard University in May.

Her reformist Party of Action and Solidarity has sped up yearlong efforts at curbing corruption and ensuring equality in public life. In mid-March, for example, the president sacked the head of the National Integrity Authority, an agency set up to fight corruption. Just four years ago, the EU declared Moldova a state captured by oligarchs. That designation helped lead to Ms. Sandu’s election in 2020 over a pro-Moscow opponent.

Most of all, knowing that Moldova might be next in Russia’s design to take former Soviet lands, its people have shown warm and welcoming hearts to fleeing Ukrainians.

With the influx of refugees, 1 in 8 children in Moldova are now Ukrainian. Per capita, the country has received the largest number of refugees from the war, or about 4% of its population. Most of them have been put up in some 50,000 private homes.

“We are the single most fragile neighbor of Ukraine,” Nicu Popescu, Moldova’s foreign minister, told Financial Times. “We are committed to making Moldova a safe place where people can find safety, and calm and dignity.”

For its efforts and fragility, Moldova will receive part of a $320 million initiative by the United States and EU aimed at building up the civic “resilience” of Ukraine’s democratic neighbors. The money is especially designed to counter “Moscow’s strategic corruption and kleptocracy.”

Since 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has controlled a breakaway region of Moldova called Transnistria with the presence of some 1,300 troops. That, along with Moldova’s high dependency on Russian fuel exports, makes its situation similar to Ukraine’s before the war. “To a great extent, this war has indeed united our people,” said the foreign minister.

For now, says Ms. Sandu, that unity is focused on quickly making Moldova “stronger,” one that will make it “a pole of stability and development in the region.”

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