Where have you been directly at the Slovak-Ukrainian border?
Ondrej Vanoura: We were where you could go everywhere. This means that we have crossed all the border crossings several times. The border between Slovakia and Ukraine is about 100 kilometers long, for four days we moved there day and night.
Martin Parizek: There are three main centers. This means the main crossing in Upper Germany, where the influx of refugees is currently the greatest. When we were there, about 8,000 people came every day, 90% of them Ukrainians. Then it’s the crossing of Ubla, there are not many people but it’s been a long time. Wait times average 8-9 hours, with people waiting a long time in the convoy before arriving at their own check-in.
People find it difficult to reach the Slovakian border. Then he is relieved to see that everyone is trying to help them. It is an immense solidarity.
Martin Pařízek, radio journalist
And then it’s Velké Slemence, almost to the south, we can say not far from Čierná nad Tisou. It is a crossroads which divides the village in two, one part is Ukrainian, one part Slovak. This traffic does not exist, it is relatively well managed there. There are aid workers in each of these places, trying to help people.
What’s the vibe there?
Ondrej Vanoura: We can compare it, because by coincidence, we filmed at the Slovak-Ukrainian border last summer with policemen guarding this border, because it is the eastern border of the European Union. And now, of course, the atmosphere there is diametrically different. Fewer thousands of Ukrainian refugees than in Poland are making their way to the Slovak crossings, but the onslaught is already huge. It’s such organized chaos. In this sense, how many people are arriving, how many volunteers are there, how many vans and buses are coming from different European countries and trying to bring the refugees further west.
Martin Parizek: It is true that there are a large number of foreigners. For example, long columns of cars lead to Vyšší Germany, among which there are vans from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Czech Republic. There is a lot of Czech help there, the Czech footprint is very important. And they all try to talk on the phone with their acquaintances, which are still needed on the other side of the border. Mothers with children often spend dozens of hours on the way to the border.
We arrived early Friday morning, sometimes around three o’clock, but the onslaught of these people did not stop. There are really dozens of people crossing the border there in an hour, and most of them are mothers with children. We have experienced situations where tears come to a person’s eyes, because the stories are touching. Need to spend 48 hours on the way from kyiv to the High German border, this is really a strength. And from the eastern part of Ukraine it can take up to 60 hours. It is very difficult for people to reach the Slovakian border. But there is a great solidarity between everyone.
Yes, it must be an emotionally tense situation.
Martin Parizek: It is true that there is a huge amount of humanitarian aid flowing through the German transitional passage. In the morning, we saw several trucks from the Czech Republic, from Germany, the Czech Red Cross is helping, there is really great human solidarity. Some say it’s such organized chaos, when you get there, a city has grown up there. If an unbiased person comes there, he thought, it’s like a festival here, people still come, lots of food stalls. Then, when we start to get started, we see that there are humanitarian organizations from all over Slovakia, but also from abroad, offering people food and drink, first psychosocial aid.
You can also help directly at the Slovak-Ukrainian border. But it should be coordinated assistance. There is no point sending anything randomly there.
Ondřej Vaňura, radio journalist
The policemen and soldiers are also a big help, as we saw Czech policemen who serve there carrying suitcases and bags, trying to help people in hot tents because they are freezing. We spoke to Slovak Red Cross staff and they said they were afraid that people with frostbite would come.
Czech radio reporters also set up such a patrol there on the borders, you might say.
Ondrej Vanoura: It’s true, in fact, one or two Czech radio journalists work there all the time, we take turns there. There are also people who do not directly belong to the foreign editorial staff, because the need to get these subjects across is enormous. In short, our correspondents are still on the Slovak-Ukrainian and Polish-Ukrainian border.
The surrounding towns and villages along the border also help. What exactly did you notice there?
Martin Parizek: When a person asks in any village near the border, they answer everywhere that they help. He tries to help as much as he can. We filmed in the village of Koromla, which is a short distance from the Slovak-Ukrainian border, you can say a few hundred meters. There, the mayor and his deputy mayor decided to offer the first accommodation to people coming to Slovakia. In a small village of about 400 inhabitants, they managed to find four or five apartments ready for the future home of the elderly, and they offer accommodation there. There are already several families from kyiv. Locals bake buns, try to bring pharmacy products, basic things like diapers and food. They help with the food and their presence, because that is also important.
Do entrants have an idea of what awaits them beyond the border?
Martin Parizek: Almost none, as these people often run away and only take basic things with them. It means something to carry, some of your valuables and documents. They really have almost nothing with them. Thus, even the children on the other side of the border receive toys, at least one stuffed animal. Then they get on the buses and leave. No one carries more than one bag or backpack with them, just what they can carry. They come scared, a little frightened by what awaits them. But then he is very relieved when he sees everyone trying to help them. There is an important communication between the Ukrainians and the Slovak side and the volunteers from all over Europe.
Ondrej Vanoura: People can always help directly at the Slovak-Ukrainian border. There is a need to provide sustainable food, pharmacy products, medical devices, etc. But it is important that it is coordinated assistance. There is no point sending anything randomly there.
Even people who will take refugees from the border to the Czech Republic, for example, should be checked. We also filmed the need for interpreters. Anyone who knows even a little Czech-Ukrainian is valid at border crossings. But such a person should always contact the places and people at the border directly. Maybe through Facebook.
It was four demanding days that you spent there. Can you tell us about the most memorable experience you had there?
Martin Parizek: I am the father of two children. For me, the strongest experience was when at 3 a.m. my mother and her grandmother crossed the state line and bore two children. A toddler and another who can barely walk yet, but carries her backpack and a stuffed animal in her hand. And it’s something that brings tears to your eyes.
Ondrej Vanoura: I have a similar. It affects everyone equally, even the veteran Czech police who are helping at the border right now. When small children are brought to safety before war, those are times that will not be forgotten. I would just like to add that even according to the Slovak government, the main assault on the border is still likely to happen. The coming weeks will therefore be very difficult.
Journalists Ondřej Vaňura and Martin Pařízek were our guests. You can listen to the full interview in our audio archive.