Thousands of Ukrainians, mostly women, have arrived today in Hungary on foot, dragging suitcases and pushing baby carriages after passing a border crossing where the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has come to warn that the humanitarian situation will worsen if the war continues.
As the Russian army shells Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, thousands of people have decided to seek safety in neighboring countries.
Most of those arriving in Hungary via Beregsurány do so on foot, with few belongings, because entering by car can take hours or even days of waiting. Some of those fleeing have even left their vehicles abandoned on the other side of the border.
Klimentin, a 25-year-old Ukrainian, has just arrived from the town of Vinnytsia after a two-day journey. Hungary was the best way for him to get out of Ukraine but he intends to reach Poland, where friends work.
The young man, who is from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and has family in Russia, has been able to leave because of a disability that prevents him from going to the front. Ukraine has ordered the mobilization of all adult males to fight the Russian invasion.
“I don’t understand what is going on. It’s crazy and I hope it will pass soon. My family in Russia doesn’t understand either. No one can believe that Ukraine is a threat to Russia. I am not a threat to my Russian uncles,” he explains sadly.
Yulia, a 20-year-old girl, says her parents sent her and her sister out of the country to be safe from the shelling. Although there is free accommodation for refugees she says they will stay in a hotel for a few days and hopes to rejoin her parents in Ukraine in a week.
Hungarian volunteer groups are offering the new arrivals hot drinks, food, blankets and affection. Many of the arrivals are also part of the Magyar minority living in Ukraine and have family in Hungary.
“On the other side of the border there are many children waiting to cross into Hungary,” Szilvia Gál, a notary in the town of Beregsurány, who coordinates humanitarian activity for refugees there and estimates that thousands of people have arrived this Saturday alone.
According to Gál, Ukrainian customs authorities do not allow minors to leave the country if they do not have all the documentation in order and many of the parents have not been able to apply for the permits due to the abrupt start of the war.
This has led to many children stranded on the other side of the border and unable to leave the country.
At other times families are separated at the border, as Ukraine does not allow men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave.
Viktoria, a 19-year-old girl, has just been separated from her father and, still distraught, was waiting for her mother to arrive from Budapest to pick her up.
The spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Hungary, Ernö Simon, explained to Efe that Ukrainians can stay without a visa in the country for 90 days, so “it is impossible” to determine how many people have arrived.
Numerous municipalities, including Budapest, universities and associations offer free accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.
Russian aggression against Ukraine has sparked a wave of solidarity in Hungary – which already suffered a Soviet invasion in 1956 to crush a popular uprising – and some bars have stopped serving vodka as a sign of protest.
In Beregsurány on Saturday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denied that his government – with good relations with Moscow – had stopped Russia’s disconnection from the Swift cross-border payment system.
“Hungary has made it clear that it supports all sanctions, so we will not block anything, so whatever the EU prime ministers can agree, we accept and support,” he assured.
Orbán says the hard part comes now
The Hungarian head of government also indicated that with the prolongation of the conflict, the humanitarian situation may worsen as refugees arrive from areas of Ukraine where there is still no fighting.
“We should not be too optimistic, the hard part comes now. On the other side of the border there is a war going on and the fronts for the moment are far away,” he said, noting that the fighting had not yet reached Transcarpathia, a Ukrainian region close to Hungary.
“If the war drags on, there will certainly be war activities there,” he said.
“Next week we will need more serenity,” Orbán emphasized, adding that Hungary must be prepared to be able to cope with the consequences of a possible prolongation of the war.