Ukranians at the train station

March 8, 2022

My sister Marie-Josée Sheeks, a mother of four, lives in Budapest. Hungary shares a border with Ukraine; since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, Hungary has taken in close to 200,000 refugees from Ukraine. The other night my sister went to help out and sent this note to her siblings in Canada.

By Marie Josée Sheeks

I wanted to tell you about my evening. There are refugees coming in to the city via one of the train stations (it’s the one that was designed by Eiffel, the guy behind the Eiffel Tower). I’ve been meaning to go over and see if I can help.

So this afternoon/evening, I made a quick visit, because the big kids were out, and my younger sons were alone together, so I didn’t want to leave for too long.

It was actually quite heart-warming to see everyone working together, most of it just done by individuals and charities. Outside the station, there were three buses waiting: one going to the other train station, one to the airport, and one to warm up in. Then there were tents with the Migration Aid people. I wanted to sign up for that, but all the slots were full, around the clock, even the midnight to 4 AM shift. They have a table, everyone brings their own laptop and they are sort of dispatchers. There are Google Docs with lists of all the people offering to housing or transport. The refugees line up, and the volunteers match them with the offers, and make phone calls until they find people a place to stay and someone to drive them there.

So I wandered in a little further. A woman came up to me and asked me in Russian if she could help me. I answered in Russian, then she said, “oh, you’ve come to translate!” So she gave me a sticker to put on my coat with a Ukrainian flag on it that said, in Ukrainian “Volunteer Translator”, which is a bit weird, as I don’t speak Ukrainian. “What do I do?” I asked. “Just go in there, people will come to you”, she said.

There were all these tables set up, mostly with food. Some big grocery store chain must have donated fruit, because there were heaps of oranges and mandarins and bananas, it made me think of the descriptions of the Christmas grocery stores in A Christmas Carol. There were also people with those big tea things like they have at conferences, calling out “Chai, chai!” (chai is tea in Russian). There was soup, and piles of ready-made sandwiches, snacks, water bottles. There were signs on the walls in English and Ukrainian saying: “Ukrainians! Don’t pay for train tickets, all train tickets are free with Ukrainian passport!” There was also a sign saying that WizzAir is offering free flights to refugees.

I was wandering near a table distributing clothes and toiletries. A (Hungarian) father showed up with his little daughter to bring some donations, it was very sweet. Just as I was starting to feel a bit silly with my “Translator” sticker, one of the girls from the clothes table called out to me in Hungarian. “Could you come translate for us over here?” There was a woman about my age who started speaking to me in Russian immediately. She wanted clothes for a 14-year-old girl and an 8-year-old. I felt useful, because there was quite a bit of explaining about sizes and what they needed, the volunteers would bring out a pair of pants, and she’d say, no, she’s not that skinny, and they’d go back, and so on.

So while this was going on, I asked the woman where she was from, and I was somehow totally unprepared for her answer – “Kiev”. She started to cry, I started to cry. Finally, I said, in my sort of rusty Russian, still calling her the formal “vous”, – “may Thou be hugged?” And so we had a big hug. Eventually she got the clothes, and that was it. I helped one other family find water, and then kind of felt that I couldn’t handle the scene anymore, and plus no one seemed to be needing my help, so I went home again.

I’m still feeling kind of rattled, but on my way home, I was texting with a friend about this and she said it was nice to hear some more human news about the war, so I thought I’d share it with you too.