VYLOK, Ukraine – Women walk through the frozen night juggling babies in their arms, children tugging at their jackets, backpacks full of necessities – and a sense of sadness for the war-torn land which was home a few days ago.
“The air raid sirens went off all night, so our men sent the women and children away and stayed to fight,” Nadia, 36, said in tears as she crossed the Hungarian border with her 6 year old son Oleg and friend Tatiana and her 9 year old son Makartha.
“Not a single man of fighting age has decided to leave Ukraine. They all wanted to stand up and fight,” Nadia said.
“Our men took a gun and they are fighting against the Russians. They will fight the men who fired rockets at us from Russia and Belarus.
Nadia, who hails from the fortress-style town of Ivano-Frankivsk, said men such as her husband Ruslan, a mechanic, and those from surrounding towns came together to form a sort of “local defense guerrilla”. .
She plans to take her child to grandparents in Italy and return to Ukraine immediately to protect the family’s assets.
It is clear that she and those around her are all ready to sacrifice their lives. Fighting for their land has become their most important duty.
“We want to live as free people, and if it comes down to that, will we die fighting for it,” Nadia said as she stroked her son’s soft hair. “Only mothers of young children have left our region. Even our parents stayed there. We will return.
Yet her bravery gives way to angst as she talks about all she was forced to leave behind, flipping through photos on her phone as if afraid her memory is already fading.
Nadia said she lived in a beautiful wooden house with an oriental-style balcony and a large, lush green lawn. She can’t believe she talks about her business in the past tense.
“We have worked all our lives and built beautiful houses,” the distraught woman said. “We don’t want Putin. We want the Russians out so we can live our lives.
His son Oleg said how proud he was of President Zelensky.
“The Americans told him to hide, but he stays out and fights,” boasted the child.
Men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been banned from leaving the war-torn country so they can fight for their country. Some of their relatives are already on the Hungarian side of the border, while others search aimlessly for a place to go.
Dozens of residents in and around the sleepy Hungarian border village of Tiszabecs have come together over the past two days to turn a local school into a donation center and a nearby town hall into a warm place where families can shower and sleep at night. There are no structured camps or prefabricated houses erected along the frosty plains, despite weeks of Western warning that a Russian invasion was imminent.
“Everyone is so scared, hundreds of them, they had to leave behind everything they built,” said Poladi Laslo, a 59-year-old Hungarian physical education teacher who set up a small tent for dispensing water and packaged goods. to those who arrive.
“I’m Hungarian and we have a lot of Hungarians living across the border in Ukraine, so I really feel for them. … I am human and I feel for other humans.
Still, Laslo fears the bloodshed will spill over Ukraine’s eastern flank.
“What happens next will depend on the Europeans and the Americans and their degree of involvement,” Laslo said. “If they do, it could explode into the next world war.
“I can only hope that with all these guns and weapons now out there, these leaders are smart enough not to get too involved.”
Meanwhile, Hungarians like Laslo are working around the clock commuting to and from the border to deliver extra loaves of bread and socks or provide housing for their terrified and traumatized neighbors. Tiny stalls dot the passageway area, dispensing hot sweet tea and sandwiches long after witchcraft time for those who are psychologically hurt and weary.
“We have to go and ask women and children to take help; they’re too scared to come see us,” said Fanni Nagy, a 22-year-old performer, her arms full of packets of diapers and formula donated outside of school.
“The children are very calm; you can just see them sitting there. It’s even sadder to watch the bigger kids – because they understand what’s going on.
Some of the fleeing masses are speaking to loved ones from whom they have been separated, while others remain glued to smartphone images showing explosions lighting up the night skies of their homeland.
According to the United Nations, more than 150,000 Ukrainians have been displaced in the past few days alone, since Russia launched a full-scale ground invasion across large swaths of the country.
“We just jumped in different cars with people we didn’t know,” said Angel, a former seamstress from the port city of Odessa, now clinging to her son, Dusha, 17, and daughter, Oila, 15 years old. afraid that my son will be conscripted.
Meanwhile, others fled in defiance, swearing it was “someone else’s war”.
“I never held a gun. I never had any training,” said a 41-year-old construction worker whose wife and child are still in Ukraine.
“I don’t think people should be randomly given guns,” he said. “I don’t think it helps anything. We had to go out; conscription was going very fast. [Authorities] come in ordinary cars, then you don’t know, they give you a uniform and take you to the front.
The man, who did not give his name, said he was detained, questioned and then allowed to cross because he holds both Ukrainian and Hungarian passports. His younger brother – only a Ukrainian national – instead proceeded to bribe Ukrainian border guards with the equivalent of just over $100 in cash hidden in his passport as a bribe.
As it stands, it’s unclear if the wave of people fleeing will be displaced in the short term or if individuals are leaving their lives behind for good. As the fighting rages, Eastern European countries – from Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to Estonia, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia – welcome the desperate and the displaced with open arms . Yet their abilities are likely to be stretched to a critical point as the weeks go on.
International aid groups are already calling for a humanitarian corridor that will allow them to operate safely and evacuate civilians trying to leave.
“It is written in the Bible that a great wave will come from the East,” a Ukrainian refugee, a Roma grandmother with flamboyant hair, said calmly from the border. “But that won’t be the end.”
New York Post