Reflection from Zahony, Hungary

PDA’s Associate for Migration Accompaniment Ministries, Susan Krehbiel, is currently traveling as part of a PC(USA) delegation to Eastern Europe, meeting with partners responding to the war in Ukraine. Throughout this trip, she will share reflections as time allows.


We met Marina, an engineer, (not her real name) at an overnight shelter in Zahony, Hungary, near the Ukrainian border.  She arrived in today with her husband, leaving her home near Kyiv.  She did not want to leave home, she says.  She had thought about it for a long time.  Due to the power rationing, they only had 4 hours of electricity per day which meant no heat or water either the rest of the day.  She finally felt worn out from the challenges of day to day survival and fear of the unknown, and renewed shelling in the past few days in the city was the last straw. They are headed to Germany.  As she is talking, she pulls out her cellphone and shares with us a photo of her aunt’s home in Kyiv that was bombed.  Only the walls are still standing, there is rubble everywhere.  Then she continues, “this is not war because they are not fighting against an army, they are attacking civilians.  There are tanks in our neighborhood.”  Again, she takes out her cellphone and shows us a video of her neighborhood, regular houses and streets until you see 2 tanks parked on a corner.  Marina’s mother and aunt are still in Kyiv.  Marina and her husband don’t know how long they will stay in Germany, but for now they are searching for peace and rest.  Among others staying at the shelter that night was a young mother from Nigeria with her Ukrainian citizen son.  In the midst of our heavy conversation with Marina, we were greeted by this young child as he ran in and out of the room full of energy and laughter. 

The Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) is a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and was the first humanitarian aid organization to set up an aid station in this border town on February 24, 2022.  When a train arrives in the station, several HRCA workers are ready with food boxes to pass out to the Ukrainian refugees. Like Marina, they have traveled for hours from their war torn cities. As the Ukrainians enter the station, HRCA is ready to assist with other basic needs (clothing, diapers, hygiene items), basic information and, sometimes, with needed medical attention.  HRCA operates a shelter in an old school building for those who need a place to stay for a night or two until other arrangements are made.  The Hungarian Government allows Ukrainians to travel free by rail to Budapest and tickets for 3 Euros to Vienna.  There will be more HRCA workers in Budapest to assist with connections.  The number of refugees arriving each day has dropped considerably from last Spring and yet every day, more continue to find their way. Some days only 30 people, other days there are several hundred.

We thanked Marina for sharing her story.  She replied “It is important.  People need to know the truth about what is happening.”  We offered to pray for her family and for her travel. “Prayers sustain us,” she replied.

Photos by Patrik Karsa, HRCA and Susan Krehbiel.

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