Irina (31) is a trained nurse, who – together with her two children – lives with 100 other refugees in the Batiovo refugee shelter in Transcarpathia. They receive three meals a day in the establishment, which is heated and equipped with hot and cold running water, as well as mattresses and blankets. It is one of more than 130 refugee centres and shelters that Hungarian Interchurch Aid supplies with food, water, hygiene products and household appliances. Thanks to the support of HIA’s generous donors and the ACT Alliance, in Transcarpathia alone our volunteers were able to help displaced people in more than 35 thousand instances.
When I ask how they came here, she laughs with remorse. They arrived late in the evening on 13 March after a long and exhausting journey. Their home used to be Novohryhorivka near Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, which they left on 1 March. There is intensive fighting going on in the area even as we speak.
Their story is not unique among Ukrainian refugees. The family was torn apart by war, with the husband – a history teacher – joining the territorial defence in the first days of the conflict. In the beginning Irina and her children moved in with her parents. As the house lacked a basement, they built a makeshift shelter out of sofas and furniture. This gave them a sense of security – a sense that would soon prove to be an illusion. They realised they needed to go when a couple of days later a bomb exploded in the neighbourhood.
Her parents did not want to leave. Her father being born there, she believes that they would need to be tied up to make them abandon the house. Ultimately Irina and the children left them there, and started walking to the evacuation point situated near the hospital on March 1. Halfway to said point they were forced to take cover as Russian forces started shelling the settlement.
It only took them to a nearby village – there was no more fuel left. When five days later that village was about to be taken by the Russians, they needed to leave again. This time they went to an acquaintance’s place, but were forced to relocate to the local kindergarten once relatives of the hosts arrived. War has caught up with them again, with the sound of shelling coming nearer and nearer every day. After consulting with Irina’s husband, they finally decided on moving to the western border regions of Ukraine.
Finally, they were able to catch a train to western Lviv – the train journey lasted 20 hours. According to Irina, there were 12 people for every seat, so little Dmitro (5) was sleeping on the feet of another woman, while Polina (8) slept in her lap. While in Lviv they contacted shelters, and were assured that they were waiting for them in Batiovo, Transcarpathia. They arrived to the village after another exhausting 5-hours train ride.
Having lost contact with her sister and parents, she even posted their picture on Facebook – hoping that someone has information on their wellbeing. Fortunately, few days ago they managed to contact Irina. Her family left behind in occupied Ukraine was alive and well – even their house was still intact. But she continues to worry about them.
Back at the community shelter volunteers are doing what they can for life to continue as normal as possible. Irina’s daughter is in third grade, but now all her classes are online as elementary schools have switched to distance learning due to the war. Her son will start school in the fall. However, their life in the shelter is not without problems.
Having registered themselves as internally displaced with the authorities, they are yet to receive monetary aid from them. Be as it is, crossing the border into Hungary and the EU as a refugee is not an option for Irina’s family. Her husband, sister and parents all stayed in Ukraine and she doesn’t want to leave them even further behind. Nevertheless, this might be their only option if war catches up with them here in Transcarpathia as well. Longing for the home left behind, she wants to return, but doesn’t expect this to be possible in the short term.