Ukrainian refugees in Hungary long to return 'when the war is over'
Pablo Gutierrez in Budapest
Russia launched its military campaign against Ukraine on February 24, 2022. And on that chilly February morning a year ago, thousands managed to escape from the guns of an advancing army to the troops of volunteers ready to help them.
But the Ukrainian refugees headed to neighboring Hungary had to wait at one of the border crossings.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 2.4 million people are thought to have either fled to or through Hungary from Ukraine since Russia launched its military offensive a year ago.
Women, children, and seniors rushed to train stations and border crossings to escape imminent danger. They carried only the possessions they could gather in haste as bombs began to rain down on their cities and towns.
Many Ukrainian refugees, with the help of private individuals and non-profit organizations, have since temporarily settled in Hungary.
"Here, there were lines of people waiting for help and waiting to be attended to," recalls Maurice Janssen, General Manager, Hotel Crowne Plaza, Budapest.
A humanitarian crisis
Janssen's hotel in the Hungarian capital is located next to the Nyugati train station, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrived.
"I live right on the other side of Nyugati station, so for me, it was a daily walk to work, I saw the daily need," Janssen tells CGTN.
A humanitarian crisis had landed at Janssen's doorstep, and with the help of his staff, he responded. They first brought food and water to those arriving at the train station but soon realized the refugees' needs were far greater.
"I became personally involved with a group of volunteers. They occupied an empty office building, and we converted it into sleeping halls, so there was a kitchen, but it needed food; there were beds, but they needed bedding, slippers, and essentials," explained the hotel manager.
"I messaged my friends in the Netherlands and said 'I'm here, I can help directly,' and they started sending money, and with this money, I was fortunate enough to get thousands of euros, a good buddy of mine and I went to the shelter daily to see what the needs were," explains Janssen.
As the hostilities in Ukraine continued, refugees were left with no choice but to seek employment and long-term lodging. Janssen responded by opening the doors of the hotel he runs.
He went on to hire many Ukrainian refugees to work for the hotel and gave them a room to stay until they found permanent accomodation. Some of them are still employed by the hotel.
'There is no normal anymore'
"My mother is still in Ukraine. My father and my brother left the country just as the war started. The area where I came from was not bombed like other cities, but there is no food or water," Maria Kravchuk, who works at the hotel as a housekeeper, told CGTN.
She is grateful she has a job but hopes the conflict will end soon, so she can return home.
With the help of an employment agency in Hungary, nearly 1,000 refugees found work in hotels and somewhere to live, but many still long to go back home.
"When the war is finally over, it will be a bittersweet feeling because many people have died. We hope that by the end of all this, life could go back to normal, but there is no normal anymore," says the hotel worker.
The masses of people seeking food and shelter in those early weeks may be gone from Nyugati train station, but the needs of incoming refugees remain, so Janssen continues to ask: "How can I help?"