Ukraine has so far been the destination of the academic dream of many young people foreign. The universities were economically more affordable and obtaining a residence permit to study and work was more accessible compared to other countries in the region. All these dreams have been diluted with the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Among the people fleeing are thousands of students from all over the world, from Ecuador to Sudan, passing through Nigeria, India or Vietnam.
Daniel, Lis, Camila and Jesús are Ecuadorians and find shelter in a parish located in the majestic city of Budapest. They had been traveling for several days his escape from the bombing in Zaporizhia. “I had three months left to finish Medicine,” Camila says with some frustration as they settle into their mattresses on the floor and hug her dog as if she were a stuffed animal. “We arrived three days ago and we are fine, but we don’t know what we are going to do with our lives. We are contacting the authorities of our country to see if we can go on the next humanitarian flight,” she says.
The four prepare to spend the night in a room where there are several crucifixes hanging on the walls, a classroom for teaching catechism now converted into a temporary dormitory for people who come to Hungary fleeing the war in Ukraine. They sit in a circle to recount their journey. A story that saddens them for those they leave behind, that moves them for having been saved from the bombings and that plunges them into the uncertainty of an uncertain future. “I can go back to my country, but my friends have gone to the front,” says Daniel.
The four lived in Zaporizhia, the city near the Energoda nuclear power plantr where this Friday an attack by Russian forces sparked memories of nuclear devastation. “We saw it on the news when we had already arrived here and it hurt us for all the people we know,” says Lis. Daniel and Jesús finished their Medicine studies and were specializing in Surgery. The two lived through the 2014 conflict in the Donbas area and did not expect the escalation of tension to lead to a war of this magnitude. “I thought it would be the same now,” he confesses.
The days before the invasion believed that everything would remain in simple threats. “I was studying when the emergency siren sounded for the first time,” says Lis. The four met in the same house and from there they decided to go out together. They had a hard time making the decision to leave, clinging to the hope that the conflict would not escalate. “We have been studying for many years without returning home and now everything is multiplied by zero,” they agree. The decision was not easy: they resisted abandoning their dreams for several days in the hope that the conflict would end.
Tanks, the last memory of Ukraine
In their university years they had learned Russian, the language of the classes. “We were in the eastern part of the country and there many people speak Russian and there is a lot of connection with Russia,” describes Daniel, who still does not believe what has happened. “I hadn’t seen my mother for six years, sacrificing myself and making my life in the Ukraine, and now everything has gone to hell,” they explain. In fact, the last memory they have of the city is Russian tanks parading through the streets.
But the war has led them to take refuge in the parish with their pets. It is cold, but they are accommodated and taken care of by volunteers. To sleep, mattresses on the floor and blankets. There is only one shower but the neighbors offer them their houses to clean up. Now they spend the day talking to their Ukrainian friends as they search for a way to return to Ecuador. They cannot focus on what will happen from now on, since they are still anchored to what is happening these days.
“When the sirens began to sound repeatedly and we began to hear more and more bombardments, we decided to leave the country,” they say. “We took a backpack especially to carry warm clothes and we went to the station”, they explain among all.
They arrived at the train station at five in the morning and it was not until ten at night that they managed to get on a train. His intentions was to cross the Polish border, but when in Lviv they found crowds of people in the same situation. They got tickets for a train bound for Chop that borders Hungary.
Once at the border point, they waited for hours to be able to cross to the other side. “We were hours and hours. A whole night with a lot of cold, we had a very bad time”. Then they took another train to Budapest and managed to reach this parish. They say that many of their classmates and friends “joined the army for love of their country.” They fear for their friends and also for their friends.
“Many young women also decided to stay and help the military,” says Lis. They are interrupted by a call from the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry. Daniel goes out with the phone and returns with good news. “I think they will put us on another flight and see if we can take our pets”he explains to his companions.
Budapest becomes another point of entry and exit in Europe
The streets of Budapest turn off with the entrance of the cold. There are hardly any people on the streets, but these days the majestic Nyugati station in the capital has become at another point of entry and exit in Europe for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. Inside, the glances that appear between hats and scarves appease the cold that hides the long platforms. In the background, a sign offering free transportation draws attention: it is the sample of the Ukrainian exodus of the last week.
Hungary has five border crossings with Ukraine. and it is the second busiest border after Poland. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, so far more than 144,000 people have arrived in this country. Local organizations explain that many of the refugees are Ukrainians of Hungarian origin and foreigners who lived in Ukraine.
A hundred volunteers are the first to welcome people arriving every hour on trains coming from the western part of the country. After a journey that can last days, the first thing the hundreds of volunteers do there is attend to them. “A hot coffee, then we take your data and see how we can help you”, explains a volunteer.
The lost look of James Amagu, a 34-year-old Nigerian, stands out from the crowd. He goes in and out nervous. “I don’t know what to do,” he says anguished. Amagu studied Industrial Engineering and worked in a theater in Kiev for four years. But the war has ended his dreams. “After thinking about it a lot, I found an opportunity there. Studying is cheaper and I worked and studied. After so much devastation I just want to go home,” he says while rubbing his hands together to get warm. He has been sleeping in the bed for two days He doesn’t know where to go and for now he just wants to rest. “Tired I can’t make decisions”recognize.
“Everyone wants to help”
Between noises and cold wagons, a group of young people appears with a piece of paper that says “India”. They are waiting for their countrymen, who arrive from Ukraine. “There were a lot of students from India there and they are crossing through Hungary.” says Abhilash, a young Indian studying in Budapest. Both he and his companions volunteered at the Indian embassy to help with the reception process. “From here we take them in our cars to Albergues and then we help them in the repatriation process. Some want to return home, but others prefer to go to other parts of Europe.”
Also striking is a flag of Vietnam. “We come to look for students from Vietnam who went to Poland and couldn’t cross and they got it in Hungary,” says Thuy A, an 18-year-old girl. She has been focused on welcoming people from her country for days. “They need us, they are students like me,” he says.
The atmosphere of solidarity overflows the station and moves to shelters and parishes. “Everyone wants to help,” says Karla, a neighbor who sees how the situation has become exceptional.
out of the station, a tent houses clothes, canned food and lots of blankets for the refugees. “Now we are doing well, but we have the support of the government,” says Vikroria, a Hungarian law student. She recalls that her country has changed the legislation to allow the entry of refugees and grant temporary asylum status to all those who “flee their homeland due to armed conflicts, civil war or ethnic conflicts.”
He acknowledges that in 2015 and 2016 the doors of his country they were closed to refugees from the wars in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, the prime minister, the far-right Viktor Orbán, built a fence in the south to contain the migratory flow and referred to migrants as “an invading army”. Before the war, the Hungarian government was criticized for its rapprochement with Vladimir Putin, but since the outbreak of the conflict it has been more distant from the Russian leader.
But the solidarity of a society dedicated to welcoming people in homes or public spaces cHoca with Hungary’s anti-immigration policy.
Before leaving the station we see a young woman hiding under her hood on a bench. Her name is Hakima, she is Moroccan and she is 23 years old. “She lived in Kharkov with my friends, she was studying Industrial Engineering and had been in Ukraine for five years,” she says.
One day he saw that the house was shaking from the bombing and decided to run away. “I don’t know what to do, whether to go back and give up my studies or wait”, the Mint. Hakima does not have any papers from the university that can prove what she has studied so far. She doesn’t want to go back to Morocco, but she doesn’t know anyone in Hungary. “I came here because the train is free, but now let’s see what I can do. What do you recommend?” She asks.