Valentina’s journey and the Ukrainian grandmothers

Valentina does not allow herself to be observed, she immediately notices him and begins to move her hands as if she wanted to talk to all the people around her in the overflowing Budapest train station, converted a week ago into the transshipment point for refugees from Ukraine. She is 90 years old and arrived in Hungary three days ago, but she still has a long way to go until she reaches his destination in Greece, a country where he has relatives and acquaintances. Her jagged smile stands out on a face wrapped in a blue scarf with pink flower patterns. His expressive eyes convey gratitude to the volunteers who bring him hot coffee. He nods his head in agreement, then waves his hands in an attempt to convey his doubts. He stammers and becomes frustrated unable to explain himself.

She is my grandmother and she is deaf and dumb”, explains her granddaughter Karina, who asks about the departure time of his train for Romania, which will be his next stop. She is 29 years old and has accompanied her during all these days of exile. The two together with their two cats fled Odessa six days ago. “We are tired, we have been traveling for many days,” says the young woman.

Valentina is 90 years old and fled from Odessa. Ebbaba Hameida

When her granddaughter utters Odessa, it’s like reading her lips. Odessa is the pearl of the Black Sea that represents the ties and conflicts between Russians and Ukrainians. In recent days, it is one of the points where the conflict has intensified and it has the main Ukrainian port on the Black Sea, so if the Russians take the city, Ukraine would be left without its door to the sea and to the export of wheat or rye.

Escape to salvation with a backpack and some photos

Valentina realizes that her granddaughter is moved when she tells us that her brother, her husband and father have stayed behind to “fight against the invasion“. She wipes away her tears with a handkerchief, tears so crystalline that they are barely noticeable on her pearly cheeks. Hugging her black leather bag, she sits next to her belongings and indicates with her finger the carrier with the two cats inside, one black and one white. It’s impossible to talk to her so we settle for just watching her. It’s a torrent of emotions and goes from smiling to crying in a matter of seconds. “We are very tired. We have been traveling for many hours,” says the granddaughter.

The old woman’s slim body is protected by a brown coat from the frigid nights of Budapest. Her journey has been like that of many people: hours and hours waiting at the train station to get a slot towards salvation. “The truth is that everyone has treated us well because she is very old,” says Karina. She carries a yellow suitcase. She assures that her grandmother did not let her go out alone with a backpack, she wanted to take memories of her from a lifetime.

At the Budapest train station, Valentina waits for the train to Bucharest. Ebbaba Hameida

The local organizations that attend the train stations in Hungary say that at first they saw more women and children, but as the days go by, more older people arrive at the stations. “Many did not want to leave their home”, assures the young woman. She had a hard time convincing her grandmother of her and she was not aware of the danger of staying until the air-raid sirens went off several times a day. “We had to take her out to the street to make her see the smoke and the traces of the bombings and explain to her that our lives were in danger,” she concludes.

“Older people did not want to leave the country”

When they see us talking to her, Natalia approaches us. She is 69 years old and asks us to speak. “I have a lot to say” and it is as if she noticed that her countrywoman cannot make herself understood. “We older people did not want to leave the country, we had our houses. In addition, we have nothing to lose, we are not like young people who have a whole life ahead of them”, he recounts before the microphone of He is unable to hold back his tears. He cries and remains silent. He returns to the charge to report that many elderly people are alone, have no relatives or are sick, making it very difficult for them to go out.”We are grateful for all the help, but they are going to take everything away from us,” he denounces.

He stops and falls silent again. She will be on the next train leaving for Berlin; He’s been waiting days to find a ticket. “We will go to Germany, to a friend’s house,” she says. She is accompanied by her daughter, who is moved to hear her mother’s testimony. She is also accompanied by a neighbor who has crossed the border between Ukraine and Hungary with them.

Valentina, at the Budapest train station, before continuing on her way to Greece. Ebbaba Hameida

Karina interrupts the conversation and asks for help to get to the platform, she has to carry the big yellow suitcase and he needs someone to guide his grandmother. Valentina, excited to catch a train, after sitting in the station all morning, carefully folds the plastic bag where she carries the food that the NGOs have distributed. Another volunteer arrives with some things in her hand, Valentina looks at the label written in Hungarian where it says: “Cat food”. She then smiles and claps her hands. “Now that they have everything, it is time to leave,” concludes the volunteer.

Solidarity on the way to Greece

Hungarian society has turned upside down with all the people arriving from Ukraine. The spirit of solidarity is breathed everywhere; In the two main stations of Keleti and Nygati in Budapest there are more than dozens of volunteers who receive those who arrive with clothes, food and blankets. Many families are opening the doors of their homes to these people who, like Valentina or Natalia, pass through the Hungarian capital in transit. Solidarity is breathed everywhere: “We understand this war. It is close to our home and they are our neighbors,” says Eszter, a volunteer. She is 30 years old; when the war in Yugoslavia broke out she was very small, but this “is the first war that I see that affects me too, she concludes. She goes to her grandmother and her granddaughter to give them the train tickets.

Karina calmly explains that they go to Romania, they have to catch another train and from there they will look for the formula to travel to Greece. She smiles, as she shakes her head as if she’s still wondering where she’s going. During the journey to the platform she gets desperate because she sees that the little girl is lost between the tracks, she does not know which train is going to Bucharest, they come across another deaf and dumb person, they stop and translate for her. She gestures goodbye and she has to leave. Valentina rolls up her sleeves and in a fit of strength she shows herself able to get on the train by herself. She clings tightly to the railing and turns to blow kisses to those she leaves behind in Budapest. More than a gesture of happiness, it was a gesture of gratitude; and it is that the word that is repeated these days in the busy station of Budapest is: thank you.

At the Budapest train station, Valentina says goodbye before continuing her exodus due to the war in Ukraine. Ebbaba Hameida

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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