On a warm weekday in June at Château Purcari, the oldest winery in Moldova, a few guests mingle at outdoor tables, sipping wine against a bucolic backdrop. Swans and fuzzy cygnets glide around a pint-sized pond. Two paddleboats float near a footbridge, awaiting their next captains. Farther afield, rows of grapevines flutter in the breeze.
The scene at this grand property was quite different just 16 weeks earlier, in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Perched on a ridgeline about 15 miles from the Ukrainian border, Purcari greeted carloads of traumatized Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives.
“In the first three days, we had more than 300 people,” says Corina Timofti, Purcari’s tourism department director. When the chateau’s 13 guest rooms filled, employees transformed the dining room into a sprawling sleeping area. The company also booked two floors of a hotel to host more refugees.
Within 24 hours of the invasion, Purcari was providing free food, hot drinks and SIM cards at a nearby gas station, an initiative it continued for two months. It also launched a help center and hotline for refugees. In all, winery executives estimate that Purcari assisted more than 8,000 people. The winery is located within sightlines of the Ukrainian border, and, from certain spots on its grounds, Transnistria, the breakaway state where about 1,500 Russian troops are stationed, is visible, too.