Tearful Ukrainian Refugees Enter Hungary; Prime Minister At Border
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Hungary
BUDAPEST/BEREGSURANY (Worthy News) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rushed to his nation’s border with war-torn Ukraine Saturday after warning that as many as 600,000 people may seek refuge in Hungary.
The usually fiercely anti-migration leader told reporters at the Beregsurány border station that his country would welcome those fleeing the ongoing Russian invasion. “For us, the most important thing is to help those who are coming over because humanity comes first,” he said. “But on the other hand, we don’t want to get involved and become embroiled in this war, in this military conflict,” the prime minister added.
Orbán suggested that many refugees arrive from the nearby Transcarpathia region where some 140,000 ethnic Hungarians live. “Its front line is still far away and hasn’t yet entered Transcarpathia, and no serious military action has arrived there yet. But if this war drags on, there will be military action there too, and we must be prepared to deal with its consequences,” Orbán added.
Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said earlier that at least one person with Hungarian nationality was already killed in Transcarpathia. “We will, of course, contact the family there and offer them help at this difficult time,” he said without elaborating.
“So as the line of armed confrontations approaches, Hungary’s borders, soldiers, the police, mayors and members of Parliament must be ever more disciplined and determined,” Orbán explained. “In the coming week, there is a need for the strongest possible composure. So we’re giving all the help we can.”
He spoke as thousands of people, many on foot-dragging only their suitcases and other luggage, were crossing into Hungary at several border stations since Thursday morning.
Among them were young men fleeing conscription, as well as women and children seeking protection. Though Ukraine banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, Orbán said Hungary would allow “every refugee” to enter.
Yet not all Ukrainian men can or want to escape the country. Speaking to reporters at the same border post, 58-year-old Nataliya Ableyeva brought a stranger’s two children to safety after border guards prevented their fighting-age Ukrainian father from crossing.
“Their father simply handed over the two kids to me and trusted me, giving me their passports to bring them over,” she said. On the Hungarian side, the two children were reunited with their mother.
Prime Minister Orbán met refugees like Ableyeva. “We’re letting in everybody. I’ve seen some people who don’t have travel documents, and we’re providing them with travel documents. People from third countries are also being allowed in after the appropriate screening,” he said.
The Russian invasion into neighboring Ukraine is a sensitive issue in Hungary as its 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination was crushed by Russian troops.
Orbán, who faces tough parliamentary elections on April 3, played down suggestions that his perceived cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin made him reluctant to condemn the attack.
He defended his decision to meet Putin this month and said he had eventually supported sanctions against Russia after publicly saying they could harm energy supplies to Hungary. “So what the prime ministers of the European Union [of which Hungary is a member] can agree with, we accept it and support it. We don’t block it,” he said.
“This is not the time to be clever; this is the time to be united. It’s a war. And what we have to do is to get back to the situation before the war: so restore peace. Otherwise, hundreds of people will die in the forthcoming days,” Orbán said.
As Russian forces continued to pound Kyiv and other cities, fearful families continued to arrive in Hungary and Ukraine’s other EU neighbors, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania.
In Romania, an Orthodox Church housed refugees at a 15th-century monastery. In Slovakia, the border town of Ubla opened a local gymnasium where foldout beds and air mattresses filled a basketball court.
Many arrive in Poland, however, where some 100,000 desperate people reached the nation so far, many making the final stretch of their journeys to safety on foot, authorities said.
“The most important thing is that people survive,” explained Katharina Asselborn, wiping away tears as she waited at the Polish border for her sister, aunt, and her three children from their home in Odessa, Ukraine.
“I don’t know what will happen next. They lost their own house. It’s so terrible. The last 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the border, they went on foot.”
Tears were also shed at Hungary’s border post in Beregsurány. “My kids are telling me to move over to Hungary for good, and they are right,” said 69-year-old Ilona Varga.
She explained that she crossed into the EU nation on foot, leaving behind her home shop, hoping she might soon return. “It is so hard to leave everything behind; I was born here, I grew up here, I have my work here, everything ties me here.”
At least some 2,000 people have also arrived in recent days at the eastern Hungarian border town of Záhony — which has a population of 4,200 people. One refugee woman who fled with her children said people in and around the border town of Uzhhorod were “very afraid” that Russian forces may bomb the local airport.
She told reporters that her husband stayed behind in Ukraine but that she and her children would seek help from relatives in Kaposvár, in south-western Hungary.
Yet there is hope between misery, suggested Miklós Szendrei, the community coordinator of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, a church-backed charity. He said Hungarians offer to open their homes.
Mayor László Helmeczi added that the local council placed 80 people, mainly women, and children. The refugees were accommodated in the local cultural center, he said. They were sleeping on mattresses donated by villagers and in blankets by the Hungarian Red Cross, hoping that the Russian invasion would end.
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