Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Gagauzia: Nowhere to Run

Entire territory currently only has safe accommodation for a maximum of four women.
By Piotr Garciu
  • Official representatives meet civil society in Gagauzia to discuss domestic violence. (Photo: Moldova government website)
    Official representatives meet civil society in Gagauzia to discuss domestic violence. (Photo: Moldova government website)

Campaigners against domestic violence in Gagauzia, the autonomous region in the south of Moldova, say they lack the resources to deal with the issue amid lockdown and with state services at a standstill.

Despite ongoing issues with domestic violence in Gaugazia, as in the rest of Moldova, it lacks even a single functional state-run refuge. The coronavirus pandemic, with its accompanying restrictions on movement and economic stresses, has led to a surge in cases which local NGOs say that they are unable to deal with.

Antonina Volkova, executive director of the local human rights organisation Vesta, gave an example of a recent case in late March this year when a woman called their hotline to ask for help.

The woman said that she had left home with her small child as her husband was violent. She added that saw no point in going to the police because her husband had friends there and she did not trust the law enforcement agencies.

Since she could no longer stay with relatives, the woman asked Vesta to help her find a more permanent solution.

“We accommodated her in one of our rented apartments that we have for victims of domestic violence,” Volkova said. “They are completely isolated in these apartments. Due to coronavirus, we have provided her with protective means. All this time, a psychologist and a lawyer have been working with the victim, though she refuses to sue the aggressor.”

The problem is, however, that Vesta’s resources cannot keep up with current demand. They maintain four apartments in which several women could previously stay for up to 30 days, while Vesta employees helped with police and legal paperwork.

But due to the pandemic, Vesta can only house one woman at a time in the apartments. And as police and court activities have drastically slowed down amid the crisis, Volkova said that some women had been forced to stay in the apartments with no progress on their cases for the past three months.

The rise in demand during lockdown meant that Vesta had been forced to ask human rights organisations in other regions of Moldova to provide victims with temporary accommodation.

Gagauzia is mainly populated by ethnic Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking Orthodox Christian group, and has its own legislative body.

In 2020, a dedicated centre for victims of domestic violence was due to open in Gagauzia as part of a two-year UN and Korean project to combat violence against women. Service users, each of whom would have her own room, would be able to stay there for up to six months.

Although refurbishment of the building, in the village of Kirsovom, was completed in late 2019, there has been no announcement as to when the centre will open or why this has been delayed.

Local psychologist Tatyana Ivanova works with survivors of domestic violence and runs therapy sessions with perpetrators. She said that the lockdown had brought additional stress, which in turn can lead to increased aggression at home.

“Family members had never spent so much time together before,” she explained. “They went to work or were involved in some other activities and only met each other in the evenings. But now, there is a situation when they have to stay home all the time. And if there was no harmony and peace in the family before, all the problems were came to the surface during the quarantine.”

Another issue she raised was that government services had ground to a near standstill during the crisis.

“Currently, the government has only one concern - this is the fight against the coronavirus and all efforts are directed at it,” she continued. “Because of this, it is difficult for victims to call the police, consult a lawyer or sue an aggressor.”

This publication was prepared under the "Giving Voice, Driving Change - from the Borderland to the Steppes Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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