Photo: Alexander Stemp

Volunteers offer relief for traumatised Ukrainian refugees

Three weeks into the unmitigated disaster that is unfolding in Ukraine, the refugee count has just topped three million. For real insight, I made my way to Budapest’s Nyugati railway station where trains are arriving from the Chop-Záhony border just about every two hours. As the disorientated passengers finally step out they are greeted by volunteers who usher them into a makeshift help centre, and here I met friend and helper Olga Kolosz.
19. March 2022 6:51

Olga is also from Ukraine but based in Budapest, and she explained the daily routine at this busy junction. She said: “I come here almost every day to help out with this hands-on affair. To begin with, myself and a team of other volunteers, we wait for the trains to come in. Then it’s fairly obvious who these refugees are, as often enough they are tired, withdrawn, bewildered and are in need of obvious help.

“It is then up to us to welcome them by rounding them up and taking them to the newly designated ‘Help centre’ here at Nyugati. There is one at Keleti train station too. Then, depending when space allows, they can relax a little and find some comfort and solace with us.”

First and foremost, the helpers offer refreshments, Olga said. The next phase is to offer assistance with local accommodation. There is the opportunity to renew Ukraine SMS cards with Hungarian ones. Various translators also come to assist and there is information and advice about travel onward. Second-hand clothes and toys are available, all free of charge.

“Our committed team works to provide the best assistance possible,” Olga said. “We talk to them, we hear their stories, which are heart-rending. Some have been travelling for days and narrowly escaped being hit by Russian missiles. Then we have to figure out where they go next. Some are very dis-oriented and don’t know where to go at all. Some have also confused Budapest with Bucharest and had hoped to be in Romania rather than here.”

A medical team is on standby but can provide only the basics. “Then when somehow accomplished to our best of our abilities, we send them on their way to their next destination, perhaps to local accommodation or to direct them to the next train. Although many are grateful, most would prefer to be at home as this criminal war should have never happened.

“Work also has to be found. It’s good to know some have already found jobs, even if it is simple manual work, but it’s a start at least and many look forward to eventually returning home.”

The invasion of neighbouring Ukraine by Russia on February 24, 2022 came as the world was finally getting over the game-changing COVID catastrophe. The majority of refugees fleeing Ukraine to an uncertain future in the European Union and Moldova have crossed into Poland. Many more traumatised people are still on the move and facing a perilous journey as the Russian bombardment of civilian areas continues.

Chess grandmaster and Russian exile Garry Kasparov offers: “Ceasefires merely mean reloads in [ Russian President] Putin’s terms.”

The Russians may be without Big Macs and other Western goods but enemy warplanes still fly over Ukraine, with no end in sight yet. Meanwhile teamwork continues at Nyugati and Keleti railway stations and elsewhere. To volunteer, I suggest making your way there and asking around. Anything ranging from hosting, serving, fetching, carrying, communicating, catering, fundraisers and so on – your support is most welcome no matter how small.

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