Ukrainians take refuge in a Hungarian village famous for its brandy

An icy wind is blowing outside the windows, but in a small house in the Hungarian village of Panyola, about thirty kilometers from the Ukrainian border, the weather is fine. The heat comes from the old tiled stoves in the bathroom. The wrap is dried on a hanger. It does not belong to the two-month-old son Maria Rossocha of kyiv. She and her mother and friend found a temporary home in Panyola. “We are waiting here for Ukraine to win the war,” says Marija.

From our reporter – When the Russians invaded the neighboring country, Nikit was only a week old and a little. “I packed up all the baby stuff we had at home, plus some of my own, and headed west to Ukraine,” the 26-year-old recalled. There she met her friend Inna, who looks like Marija Ajťačka.

Maria’s husband and Innia’s friend took them to the border. It was the last time the women saw their partner. They both turned east and went to fight in the war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Where is Panyola? | Photo: Google Maps

Maria’s husband went to defend the capital, in the northwestern suburb of Hostelel, and Maria bought an apartment. Hostomel is close to Irpin and Bucha, places where many civilians were found after the departure of the Russian army.

On the day of the conversation with Maria and Inna, the first evidence of war crimes in Buč went around the world. None of the women knew them at the time. “I prefer not to follow the news, I’m afraid of losing milk for the little one”, confides Marija in a heavy voice. Inna gets up and goes to the kitchen for a cup of water. “We are in contact with our partners and our relatives in Ukraine. We ask if it is safe to return, but it is not yet the case”, explain the two women.

That’s why Marija and Inna, one of the few Ukrainians in Hungary, stay by the way just on the border in a small village where the main source of income is fruit growing and the production of musts and schnapps. They want to be as close to home as possible. They think they can come back at the end of April, for example.

I prefer to talk about my work

Where she is “at home”, Inna indicates on a map on her mobile phone. He lives in Poltava, north of the Dnieper and southwest of Kharkov. Finding Maria’s address is more difficult, living with a man in one of the tall buildings built in recent years. While searching, the inscription “Mrija Plane” will briefly appear on the map, a reminder of the world’s most admired largest cargo plane, the Antonov An-225. He was standing in the hangar at Hostomel airport when the war started. Shortly after, it was destroyed by a Russian missile.

Inna looks at the panel and sighs. “You know, I much prefer to tell you about my work, which part of kyiv I like best or where I like to run in Poltava. But as many people as possible need to hear these things. So I’ll tell you “, he said firmly.

“On the morning of February 24, I was woken up by a strange noise. I have never heard anything like it. We called friends and found that the same sounds were heard all over the country,” says the young woman in fluent English. choosing his words carefully so as not to have to say it aloud “explosion” or “bombardment”.

Poltava’s trip to the west with her boyfriend took her more than two days. “We didn’t know what to do, where to go. We just wanted to go home and live in peace,” he recalls at the start of the war. Instead, the rapidly spreading conflict pushed them and tens of thousands of their compatriots further west. After meeting Maria at the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, the women marched to safety, to the European Union.

Marija has an uncle in Hungary, but she works on a construction site and lives in a shared apartment. He could not directly help women with a small child. However, he managed to find out that in Panyol, unlike the vast majority of Hungarian municipalities along the Ukrainian border, they also offer long-term accommodation for refugees. This is how two young Ukrainians met the third important woman in this story: Klára Kissová, who lives in a village surrounded by plum orchards with her husband and granddaughter.

The joys of everyday life

“As soon as the day after the war, we began to organize voluntary aid, in collaboration with the local government”, explains the young woman energetically. “By any chance, none of you speak Russian or Ukrainian?” he asks. A mother of three from Kharkov has just arrived at Panyola, and there is no one to interpret on Sunday afternoon. But some things are clear even without words: they need warmth, something to eat and an internet connection to get home.

Klára Kissová with her daughter.

Klára Kissová with her daughter. | Photo: Jakub Plihal

“Most of them continue west. At the beginning, we had Moroccans or Nigerians who lived in Ukraine and tried to return home. For one girl, the ambassador of Morocco even had to come from Budapest, she had a broken leg,” Klára Kissová recalled of the early days of the war. “Then people from the war zones started driving. Mariupol, Kharkov, Kyiv.”

In Hungary, aid to refugees mainly focuses on means of transport further west – to Budapest or other EU countries, including the Czech Republic. Of the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, mostly women and children, only a fraction remain in the country.

Thanks to the hospitality of Klára Kissová and her husband, several groups have found temporary refuge in Panyola. “The priority was a safe place for the baby,” says Inna, as Marija calms the restless boy in the next room.

Meanwhile, Klára’s husband enters the living room of the house, which Marija and Inna still live with Marija’s mother, with a bed torso. The Panyola family no longer serves, so little Nikita can now sleep there. However, Innin’s cat is the first to lay claim to the bed’s mesh design. It arrived here in a crate resembling an astronaut helmet. “He likes all the things that should belong to a baby,” Inna laughs for a moment.

Taking care of the cat, baking cakes, finding diapers for Nikita and other daily experiences make both women happy. But the smile on his face quickly turns into a serious expression.

“It’s hard to be safe here when many of our citizens are living in Ukraine and going through hell. It’s not fair that some died or lost their homes and loved ones,” Marija said. His father, a chief, also joined the kyiv militia. But he was too old to participate in the fighting, so at least he cooks for the soldiers and makes Molotov cocktails.

“It was hard for me to force myself to eat. So many people in Ukraine are hungry,” says Inna. According to him, he still cannot believe everything that has happened in Ukraine in a month and a half. In part, he gets the big picture thanks to his friend’s sober information. He volunteered to join troops in southern Ukraine, Mariupol, where tens of thousands of people have died since late February. “They don’t have to tell me any secret information. I know by voice what the situation is,” explains the young programmer.

Grandma doesn’t trust us

Marija tries to avoid politics, not just because of stress. She is originally from Belarus, where her grandmother still lives. “We called and she just doesn’t believe us. She doesn’t believe the Russians are killing us. She prefers to trust official Russian propaganda and Putin actually saving us. I was eager to show her Nikita, but now I don’t even want to talk to him.” he said sadly.

Nor does it address the parliamentary elections taking place in Hungary on the day of the interview, after which the crushing Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, clearly defined himself against Ukraine. “We only met the best people here. They gave us everything we needed and more,” agree the two Ukrainians.

The desire to offer Ukrainians long-term asylum or a clear view of who is responsible for the war in Ukraine is not entirely common among local Hungarians, admits Klára Kissová. “It is also our war”, he says in disagreement with the official position of the Hungarian government. Referring to fears of escalation, he refuses to supply weapons to kyiv and does not even allow them to be transported to its territory.

Klára clearly sees her task for the next few weeks: to find more permanent accommodation for the refugees who want to stay here. So far, they live either in private apartments, which however will be filled with ordinary visitors after the start of the tourist season, or in municipal apartments. “We want at all costs to avoid saying that Ukrainians live here for their money. So we will try to get money from donors and we will find something else,” he said firmly. “They think they’ll be going home soon, and I don’t want to spoil that. But I honestly think it’s a bit naive. Their houses can be destroyed and their men are at the front,” concluded the Hungarian.

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