Romania Has Disappointed Ukrainians

Daniel Bootman
3 min readFeb 7, 2024

Ukrainian refugees are shocked by the cynical attitude they have faced from Romania’s authorities and business community

It has been almost two years a war rages in eastern Europe, its scale and devastation only comparable to those of World War2. As a consequence, millions of Ukrainians have found themselves refugees in the countries of the European Union.

In the first months after the Russian invasion, Europeans were eager to host migrants from the east, but as the war dragged on their attitudes began to change with the situation in Romania being most alarming.

The issue has become the subject of an extensive report entitled “Labour Market Asessment on Ukrainian Refugees in Romania” that was published by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the Center for Comparative Migration Studies (CSCM) who surveyed Ukrainian refugees in Bucharest, Constanta, Galati, and Braila.

According to the European media, about six million Ukrainians have entered Romania since the beginning of the war. Most of them then left for other EU states, but according to the report, 137,108 refugees stayed in Romania. Among the female refugees having entered the country, 22% were women on maternity leave.

In May 2022, the Romanian government launched the 50/20 program to pay the Romanian landlords providing accommodation for refugees 50 lei per person per day. 20 extra lei a day were paid to the refugees to compensate their food expenditure. This money, unfortunately, were often extorted by their landlords who also showed increased demand for large Ukrainian families to maximize the subsidies paid.

As a consequence, the Romanian government cancelled the program but kept paying 2 thousand lei every month to a landlord for every Ukrainian family they accommodated, and the duration of this support was reduced to 4 months, which led to a massive refusal to extend housing agreements, feeling the web with scandal stories. To reverse the wave of bad publicity, the Government claimed they had already spent 565 million Euros since February 2022, the sum they apparently considered to be more than sufficient. But what actually happened was the Romanian Government effectively self-disengaged from supporting the refugees, pushing them either to return to Ukraine or move to another EU country. They have been doing that in complete ignorance of the fact that a lot of Ukrainians have nowhere to return and that other Central European countries are also in no hurry to host them. As for Romania, it is extremely difficult for a refugee to get an official job, as only 13% of them speak Romanian, and the Government has not done anything to assist this problem. According to the report, 43% of the surveyed said they had spent from 6 to 12 months looking for a job, and for 7% it had taken more than a year.

Romanian business community has been trying to squeeze most from this sad state of affairs, recruiting the refugees as cheap labor. Despite two Ukrainians out of three have a university degree (40% Master’s and 27% Bachelor’s), they are hired as cleaners, waiters, garbage collectors, laborers, etc. These jobs are rarely contracted officially and the report found only 3 per cent or 5 007 Ukrainians worked legally. More than half (58%) of the surveyed refugees claimed they had no official employment contract that confirms they are involved into informal or undocumented working relationships that violate the Romanian law. This unofficial status leads to various abuses, so it is not surprising the overwhelming majority of the refugees (about 70%) said they were not satisfied with their jobs, and more than half of the respondents (56%) considered their income insufficient to cover their basic needs.

By October 2023, the practices pushed by the Romanian Government had forced 96 512 of 137, 108 Ukrainian refugees to leave the country, in other words, anyone who had this opportunity they left. Those who stayed are still numerous and refuse to go. They fear of getting back to Ukraine where they may be drafted or shelled or get jobless. Nevertheless, Romania’ Government and nationalist organizations keep are pushing them to leave, fostering Ukrainians’ disillusionment with the EU, so many experts believe that after the war is over, many of the refugees who have returned to Ukraine and experienced all the charms of “European hospitality” will become the main opponents of the country’s integration into the EU.