Republic of Abandoned Children: Desperate Moldovans Head West without Families
Moldova was a relatively prosperous republic when it was still part of the Soviet Union. But now its ailing economy has driven roughly a quarter of its population abroad in search of better prospects. The victims are the thousands of children growing up back home alone.
When Nadia Popa wakes up at 7 a.m. every morning, it is to a growing and uneasy feeling of rage. Popa lives in an apartment in the southern part of Verona, one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, where summer lilac is now in full bloom. It’s a place where tourists come to spend romantic weekends. “I’m not here to be happy,” she says.
Her children, Anastasia, 16, and Alexandra, 12, wake up at the same time, but more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away, in the dusty village of Nucreni in the northern part of the Republic of Moldova. Popa’s daughters live in a country that is notorious for human trafficking and the illegal trade in human organs. The girls sleep in a spotless room with pink walls and teddy bears neatly lined up on the sofa. It looks more like an empty dollhouse than the bedroom of two young girls.
Anastasia and her sister, Alexandra, live alone in the house, which is on a gravel road. They feed the chickens before school and, in the afternoon, they plow the corn and potato fields. The girls run their own household, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and cutting firewood in the forest. The pink bedroom looks like that of a typical childhood — but this is anything but that.
After Moldova became less prosperous, the parents in families like Anastasia and Alexandra’s began to leave. Moldova was relatively prosperous during the Soviet era, when it was a significant exporter of fruit and vegetables to the rest of the country. But today, it is Europe’s poorest country. Of a population of 4 million, one million Moldovans have already moved abroad to countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, which they still view as places of hope. Most Moldovans live there illegally, leaving children and the elderly behind in their villages in Moldova.