The Russian invasion in Ukraine prompted a huge wave of refugees many of whom arrived to Hungary. On this side of the border, local people and civil organizations gathered to help those forced to flee their home. One of these volunteers is journalist Antal Marosi who tells Diplomacy&Trade about the work he and his fellow aid workers do on both sides of the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.
The Russian attack started on February 24 and the following evening Antal Marosi was already in Záhony, a major border-crossing point, reporting for the radio station that he works for. “We have a volunteer fire brigade association, and we were escorting an aid convoy across the border to the city of Lviv. It was an aid consignment worth HUF 100 million, and the organizers thought that if something went wrong, at least the fire engine could prevent a lot of damage. On another occasion, with the Catholic Charity Service, we got as far as Kőrösmező, the furthest village in Transcarpathia,” he says, adding that he has been trying to make myself useful ever since. A member of the fire brigade association has a number of ozone generators, and they use these machines to go to different places where there are large numbers of people and presumably there is a need to decontaminate the air. “We actually started this activity earlier and have been decontaminating many places since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. We cleaned the laundry of patients infected with coronavirus at that time,” he adds.
An experienced volunteer
This is by far not the first time Antal Marosi has been involved in humanitarian aid. As to what previous experience comes useful in help refugees in and from Ukraine, he mentions the professional experience that one learns at the firefighters. “Also, experience that life forced us to go through during the COVID-19 epidemic, when we went to many places to disinfect. In addition, the things I've been through in my journalistic career, including the wars I've been in over the last 25 years.” One of those places is Kosovo, where he had several reporting assignments. "I was there when the country was formed and proclaimed. Then, I've been to crisis zones like Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan – just to name a few. I was in Iraq for four and a half months first, and spent a year and a half there in total. For example, I was there at the start of the second Gulf War,” he highlights.
Moment not waning
It was heart-moving to read, to see in the news, that people in the border villages, including NGOs and ordinary people came to help where they could. Regarding the atmosphere among the people helping the refugees, Antal says “it depends on how much time has passed. After the problem arose, there was an upsurge. Everybody wanted to help everywhere, then things settled down a bit, so now, for example, there is a separate aid organization at each point on the border, except for the Red Cross, which is present everywhere. There was a period of straightening out, of calming down, followed by fatigue, but the momentum is not waning, it's just that people are tired. The vast majority of volunteers have jobs. I know of a doctor in Kisvárda who is a gynecologist: she sees patients during the day and drives a small lorry with a consignment of goods across the border to Ukraine in the evening. From the first minute, you could expect an internal migration in Ukraine. In the western areas, there was a sudden increase in the population and the medicines ran out. This consignment I mentioned was also a shipment loaded with medicines and other medical supplies.”
From Kiev to Mohács
When it comes to issues like what the refugees tell about their situation to aid workers, Antal notes that “they don't really want to talk. Refugees have a particular state of mind: to get as far away as possible from where the trouble is – at all costs.” He gives the example of a mother with two children who reached Hungary through Romania. “They actually managed to escape with the help of the fire brigade, with the help of the Budapest Fire Brigade and our association. This mother had been travelling for four days with a huge backpack, with a one and a three-year-old child, from Kiev to the external borders of Ukraine. She told us that what we see in the films or in the reports does not even come close to reflecting the actual situation in the Ukrainian capital.” He stresses that many of the refugees are very distrustful. A day or two goes by, and then they are stunned in the reception zone: "We're out of the woods now, it's OK, but what next?" Those who had friends and relatives have obviously found them, but those who have no one outside Ukraine sit on the bench and wait to see what happens next. The bus will come, take them to the station in Budapest, and perhaps they will help you there to decide what to do next, Antal Marosi describes the situation.
He adds that one evening, he met a very sympathetic woman, Tünde, who came to the border from Mohács, in the south of Hungary, to select a family to be put in a car and taken to Mohács. Tünde had already experienced a few war situations in the former Yugoslavia, bordering on southern Hungary. She knows what it all means and felt it was her duty to help someone in a similar situation. So, she took a woman home with her parents, two grandparents and two children. Of the family, the 18-year-old child has been left behind, fighting somewhere in Ukraine; her husband, hiding in a basement, is not only under 60 and in military age, but he is also deaf. He might be old enough to be a soldier, but his health rules him out. In this situation, he did not dare to leave. His wife left with his parents and their two children and they ended up in Mohács…
Everyone is right somewhere...
In the course of his volunteer work, Antal Marosi has been over to the other side of the border several times. Regarding what those who stayed there, those who are not fleeing or have not yet fled, have to say, he points out that “Those who haven't fled have done so because their house is there, their animals are there, their only value is there, the only thing they have put together in their lives.” He cites the example of an elderly woman who lives in a remote village, in Gyertyánliget: “75 years old, she can no longer move. You have to hire someone to sweep the snow off her pavement when it's winter, she has no one, she's out of her medication, in a week she might have antihypertensives, and I don't know what else she needs. Where to go? Well, she's staying, for one. Whoever leaves, I don't really know why they leave, because there is not so much danger in Transcarpathia, the region on the Hungarian border. Obviously, there was a hysteria once, and as a result of this, a lot of Hungarian-speaking people left and crossed the Hungarian border. I don't know what will happen to the houses they left behind when they return, whether refugees from the interior of Ukraine will move into the empty houses, and what condition these properties will be in. Otherwise, the big question is whether the internal refugees will have somewhere to move back to, because if not, they should stay where they have moved to. So, there will be a lot of questions that will arise later on, and we do not know what the right answer is. Everyone is right somewhere.”
When asked what thoughts come to his mind about this situation, thoughts that he would share with ordinary people or politicians, Antal Marosi emphasizes that “the same thing that has occurred to me in all wars and is clear to me: it is completely unnecessary and pointless…”
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