BARABÁS, Hungary — As millions of Ukrainian refugees continue to flee the continued violence of Russian aggression, many have found solace in neighboring Hungary thanks to the efforts of Caritas.
Arriving in the border town of Barabás, the refugees are immediately taken to the charity’s makeshift refugee center, where they receive shelter, a hot meal and a well-deserved rest after a harrowing journey.
In general, “we have received between 300 and 400 people” daily since the start of the war, said Balint Vadasz, emergency response manager for Caritas Hungary.
Since the start of the Russian attack in late February, some 2,000 refugees have crossed the border into Barabás. According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of March 9, more than 214,000 people had fled from Ukraine to Hungary.
“Here we try to help them move forward, plan their future and, if necessary, transport them to the central station, where they can travel for free in Hungary,” Vadasz told Catholic News Service. March 10.
At the refugee center, new arrivals lay down and rested on beds set up in a room for them. Nearby, tables were laden with sandwiches, drinks, cookies as well as toys and stuffed animals for the children.
The walls are decorated with dozens of pictures drawn by the many children who passed through the refugee centre. The designs depict butterflies, flowers and families holding hands. Yet many of the images also revealed the children’s yearning for their homeland, illustrated by drawings of hearts colored with the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
Some of the 62 refugees who arrived on the morning of March 10 were napping, exhausted from their ordeal as children talked excitedly while munching on sweets, drawing coloring books or playing games.
Their parents, however, watched with concern and uncertainty about the future. A young father stared intently at his son playing with a toy while a mother across the hall watched through her phone as her baby slept peacefully on a bed.
“It’s really hard to see these people, to see this pain,” Bettina Vig, a Caritas volunteer, told CNS. “But I think they still don’t realize their situation.”
Vig said she hoped Russia’s attack on Ukraine would “stop as soon as possible and they would realize they were wasting lives.”
Another volunteer, Ditta Krajcsovicz, recalled a woman, who arrived with her young son at the center, and said she had only had three hours to pack their life into a small backpack before the Russian bombs don’t start to fall.
“It was really hard to see how they were,” Krajcsovicz told CNS. “They didn’t have any sadness on their faces but still, you could see it in their eyes; they don’t know what is happening or where they would go. They only had three hours to prepare a backpack. It was quite difficult for me” to see.
Gasz Mihaly, who started volunteering a week earlier and helps out between college, said he was inspired by the spirit of service from his family, many of whom are doctors.
On his first day at the refugee center, he received a Facebook message from a Ukrainian living in the United Arab Emirates who wanted to know if Mihaly could drive him to one of the towns along the Hungarian-Israeli border. Ukraine.
The man, he said, planned to fly to Hungary and enter Ukraine to fight against the Russians.
“It really touched me. He had a good and safe life in the Emirates and came back to fight in the war. I thought if I was in his place I wouldn’t be able to do this.
Yet for Mihaly, the heartbreaking stories of some of the people fleeing to Hungary left a lasting impression.
“There was a guy who came by, wearing a tie and a very nice suit,” he recalls. “He came up to me, very shy, and said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have money to go to Budapest. Can you take me to the train station?'”
Others, Mihaly said, arrived in Barabás with no hope of ever returning to their homelands.
“Someone came here today and said he wouldn’t come back to Ukraine because everything he had there was destroyed by shelling. So now he has to start a new life and he is over 50,” he said.
Despite the grief and despair he continues to show at the refugee center, Mihaly told CNS that he still holds out hope for peace in Ukraine.
“I really think the war will end soon and anyone who wants to can go back,” he said. “And they will have the opportunity and the help of the West to rebuild their homes and rebuild their society.”