Refugees from Ukraine rest inside the help center of Beregsurany, near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, on March 16, 2022 | Photo: EPA/Attila Balazs
Refugees from Ukraine rest inside the help center of Beregsurany, near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, on March 16, 2022 | Photo: EPA/Attila Balazs

The Hungarian village of Beregsurany near the Ukrainian border has welcomed many refugees in recent weeks. As people fleeing the war continue to arrive at a reception center set up by the Order of Malta, they are given help and short-term lodgings before they continue their journeys.

Fewer refugees are arriving in Beregsurany these days, compared with the masses of people who have passed through the village in recent weeks. But the people arriving are still wearing the same expressions on their faces – tired and lost.

Only a few days ago some 1,200 people were transiting every day through the village, which is located just a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

Around 600,000 people have crossed into Hungary through the southwestern Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia, which has so far been spared from fighting.

Reception center for refugees in Beregsurany

The Ukrainian refugees arriving at the assistance center in Beregsurany, in Hungarian territory near the Ukrainian border, have very little with them -- most are carrying a single suitcase. The center is run by the Order of Malta, a catholic charity.

"We are here to ask them what they need," said Imre Szabjan, head of the rescue operations of the Order of Malta. "We are registering them here, offering them medical assistance, and rides to where they want to go: Budapest, Prague, or Vienna.They normally stay one to two days, then continue on their journey. There are some that do not know where to go, and then we given them temporary lodgings."

The Order of Malta has allocated a total of €40 million for the Ukraine emergency.

Olga fled Kyiv, headed to Germany

Olga just arrived in Beregsurany from Kyiv with her cat named Zen. She slept in a basement for days under the bombs and then escaped by hitchhiking.

"I come from Donetsk [the Eastern Ukrainian region where war between Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops has been waging since September 2014]," she said, "but since 2014 I have been living in the capital. Now I want to go to Germany to study fashion. I am leaving today."

For every person who leaves Beregsurany, others arrive: elderly people, as well as a wrestling team proudly taking photos with the Ukrainian flag and who are going to Budapest for some matches.They do not know when they will be able to go back.

The Hungarian police are carefully monitoring the situation to ensure that vulnerable individuals such as women and children are not exploited and trafficked. An awareness-raising campaign sponsored by the Order of Malta has urged people not to accept rides from people they do not know.

The flow of refugees from Ukraine to Hungary has slowed because most of those who wanted to leave the country have already done so, with almost 4 million already out, according to the Order of Malta. The destruction of bridges across the Dnepr River -- which runs through the middle of Ukraine from north to south -- also prevents many from going west.

"In Transcarpathia there are about 500,000 people displaced from other parts of Ukraine. They are waiting to see what happens," Szabjan said.

Order of Malta also active across the border in Ukraine

Ukraine is just a few kilometers away from the village of Beregsurany. Across the border, Ukraine's devastated streets stand in stark contrast with Hungary's well-manicured countryside. Only a few cars are queueing as they wait to cross into Hungary -- compared with the thousands who were crossing in previous days, including many people arriving on foot.

In the Ukrainian border city of Beregovo, about ten kilometers from Beregsurany, the Order of Malta has been active for decades and helps disabled children and Roma in need. The war has changed the tasks they face but their work continues, including services that serve non-refugees.

In one large building, there are large amounts of aid -- about 100 tons -- that have come from many places and are waiting to be sorted and sent to different parts of the country at war, from Mariupol to Lviv and Kyiv.

"We receive something like 5,000 tons of aid per day," said Tunde Hnatik, a Ukrainian of Hungarian ethnicity. "Here [in the building] they were making bricks. Now we are using it for storage."

Inside there is a bit of everything, from canned food to diapers, from large tins of beans and pasta from brands never seen in Italy.

At the cafeteria run by the Order of Malta not far from the Beregovo center, a smiling elderly woman volunteer has just cooked goulash. "Here everyone helps out -- to cook, to bring donations," said Maria, who came here from Budapest at the beginning of the war. "See how good that smells."


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