Hundreds of people dragging only their suitcases and other luggage have been crossing the border from Ukraine to Hungary on foot at several border stations since Thursday morning. Young men flee conscription, women and children seek protection. At midnight, men between the ages of 18 and 60 were banned from leaving the country. In response, Hungary issued a new regulation allowing entry for everyone coming from Ukraine. The Orbán government expects up to 600,000 refugees to arrive.
Since Thursday morning, at least 400-500 people with suitcases and other luggage walked across the border from Ukraine to Hungary at Beregsurány, state news agency MTI’s correspondent reported at the scene.
Most people were arriving in groups of two or three, many waiting close to the border on the Hungarian side to be picked up by family or friends. Many were young couples carrying small children in their arms or pushing prams.
Most of the people waiting to enter are from the large ethnic Hungarian minority of Transcarpathia. A young man said there were long queues of cars on the Ukrainian side, most of them with Transcarpathian plates.
He said he would stay with a relative living in Hungary, adding that he had been concerned that he may be conscripted into the Ukrainian army had he stayed in Ukraine.
Another young man and his girlfriend said they had had plans to travel to the Netherlands. “We did not know how long the borders would stay open and decided to leave immediately,” they said. They added that they had seen long queues at ATMs because withdrawals were limited, adding that fuel sales at filling stations were also restricted.
MTI has also received reports of many refugees crossing into Hungary on foot at Tiszabecs border station too.
In a Thursday article, news portal Telex also reported an increasingly noticeable wave of refugees from Ukraine to Hungary that is growing by the hour. Young men flee conscription, women and children seek protection. So far, these have mainly been people who have refuge in Hungary, work here or have relatives living here. The correspondent of the news portal spoke to several of them at the border.
We came before we received our draft orders. But the male actors of the Illyés Gyula National Theater in Beregszász have already received them. They are not even allowed to leave Ukraine.”
Ukraine began conscripting reservists aged 18-60 on Wednesday, following a decree by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the armed forces said in a statement. On Tuesday, Zelenskiy said he was introducing the conscription of reservists, but ruled out a general mobilization. The maximum service period is one year.
According to a Facebook post by Ukraine’s state border guard service, this means that men in the given age range will not be allowed to leave the country while martial law continues.
At the border crossing in Záhony, Telex spoke to a young Ukrainian woman who left the country with her small child and her husband. They have no idea where they will go. For now, the car is their home.
The woman said they have relatives in different parts of Ukraine and don’t know when they will be able to leave. When she was asked how she feels, she said through tears:
My country has been attacked! How would you feel?”
On Thursday evening, the portal reported a similar scene at the Beregsurány border crossing, where people were continuously arriving with large bags and suitcases.
“I gathered the family and said, yes, we will come, because this is not my war and I have nothing to do with it,” a Hungarian man fleeing Ukraine told the portal.
Another Hungarian woman said it was her son she feared for the most and that was why she ultimately made the decision to come to Hungary.
I did not want to send my son to the battlefield to be a sponge for bullets,”
On the Ukrainian side, Telex spoke to a border guard who said more than 1,500 people have crossed the border from the Ukrainian side so far on Thursday, which he estimates is about three times the number on a normal day. Border officials are unaware of the borders being closed and assume they will remain open twenty-four hours a day.
According to Magyar Hang, men arriving with Hungarian passports are not always turned back, but if it is suspected that they also have Ukrainian citizenship, only the female family members and children are allowed to leave the country, and men are not.
Meanwhile, due to a large number of arrivals, two Hungarian-Ukrainian border stations have already extended their opening hours.
The Hungarian-Ukrainian border stations of Lónya-Dzvinkove (Harangláb) and Barabás-Kosyny (Kaszony) have extended their opening hours until 11pm, Hungarian police said on Thursday evening.
Up until Feb. 28 both crossings will be open from 7 am to 11 pm, they said.
Police said that drivers heading for Hungary have to wait for at least an hour to cross the border.
Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the UN estimates that at least 100,000 people have already fled their homes. In addition, several thousand Ukrainians have crossed into neighboring countries, mainly Moldova and Romania. The situation is still chaotic and changing rapidly, the UN refugee agency said on Thursday. Meanwhile, refugee resettlement organizations are mobilizing resources to assist displaced Ukrainians, CNN reports. The scale and scope of refugee resettlement is likely to come into focus in the coming days and weeks.
The Hungarian government expects up to 600,000 refugees from “beyond the Carpathians”.
Hungary allows entry for everyone coming from Ukraine
The Hungarian government on Thursday issued a decree stating that all those fleeing from Ukraine will receive temporary protection.
According to the regulation, Ukrainian citizens coming from Ukraine and citizens of third countries who have legal residence in Ukraine can apply for asylum in Hungary and be recognized by the Hungarian authorities as entitled to temporary protection.
To this end, the government used the “emergency mandate” it received during the coronavirus epidemic. This made it possible to amend a law with lower-level legislation, thus avoiding the application of the temporary rules of the asylum procedure, according to which asylum applications may only be submitted at the Hungarian Embassy in Kyiv. The regulation entered into force at 10 pm on the same day.
In the featured photo: A woman holding her child boards a bus in Kyiv to leave the city on 24 February 2022. Photo by Emilio Morenatti/AP/MTI