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Volunteers in Romania are working at a call center to help Ukrainian refugees

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's one thing to be welcomed into a country as a visitor or as a refugee. It's another to stay and make a life in that new country, to find a school for your children, medical care, a job, a way to send money back to loved ones in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: At the Call Center de Solidaritate, volunteers answer phone calls as they come in. On the other end of the line is a Ukrainian refugee in search of assistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Non-English language spoken). You have reached the Solidarity Call Center. Your call will be attended in a few moments.

MARTIN: It took two weeks for NGOs, Geeks for Democracy and Impact Hub Bucharest to get the call center up and running after Russia began its invasion. More than 400 people responded to a request for volunteers. One of them was Valerio Crudu. He works remotely for an IT company, and he decided that instead of working alone in his house, he would work at the call center, where he could work and answer phones at the same time.

VALERIO CRUDU: Knowing that in Romania there will be a language barrier talking to the refugees, and I'm originally from Republic of Moldova, and usually we do speak Russian there.

MARTIN: Most of the Ukrainians who call also speak Russian, so that's how they communicate.

CRUDU: Each call is different because some that are calling, you can hear it in their voice that it's - they are really desperate, like, to find places to stay, where they can get more stuff and so on. And this language barrier seems really tough for them because they do not want to be a burden here, you know.

MARTIN: When a refugee calls, a volunteer will ask them a series of questions about what they need help with. Ina Paladi, the call center coordinator, reads from the script. And you're going to hear our interpreter and producer, Vlad Bolocon.

INA PALADI: (Non-English language spoken).

VLAD BOLOCON: I'll read a few - for instance, transport within Romania, transport to EU, information about a place to stay, information about health care, information about asking for political asylum. Are they allowed to work or not? Are they allowed to education? Et cetera. So then, depending on that, the operator would hit one of those options and would be able to answer the question.

MARTIN: And now some of the Ukrainians who have settled in Romania are answering the phones themselves. One of those people is Maria Fedorova.

MARIA FEDOROVA: When we come to Bucharest, I read about this center needs Ukrainian volunteers. I go.

MARTIN: Fedorova is from Odessa. She left with her young son. Her 18-year-old was required to stay behind.

FEDOROVA: It's my home. Romania is beautiful. And Romanian people is beautiful. But my home, Ukraine, I want home.

MARTIN: Right now, while she waits for it to be safe enough to return home, her son is attending a school for displaced Ukrainians and being taught by teachers who also fled Odessa. As we're speaking with her, she realizes the time. She's late to pick him up. She invites our producer to go with her, so they pile into a taxi hoping to beat rush-hour traffic.

Off the main road is an ornate high school building with striped brick detail and big glass arched windows. Kids play basketball outside as they wait for their moms to pick them up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOLYARD AMBIENCE)

MARTIN: It's 6:00 because the young Ukrainian children meet at the high school after the big kids are done for the day. For now, school from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon is the only option, but they know this can't be the long-term solution. Tomorrow on the program, we'll visit the school and hear the story of the head teacher who fled Ukraine with her 2-year-old, a sweater and a box of math textbooks. And although she's eager to return to Ukraine, she's already thinking about what school will look like in the fall while they wait out the war. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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