The chilly winter solar rises over the Carpathian mountain vary. A kilometer-long convoy of vehicles has fashioned in entrance of the biggest Ukrainian-Slovak border crossing, Vysne Nemecke.
Lots of of Ukrainians are already standing on the highest of the hill the place the street leads right down to the Ukrainian customs — all of them are fleeing the battle of their nation, attempting to cross the border and get to security in Slovakia in the European Union.
The gang largely consists of girls and kids, from infants to youngsters. The toddlers are in strollers or of their moms’ arms. Most individuals are simply carrying backpacks, massive purses or procuring baggage.
There are hardly any males in line and those that are, are solely right here to escort their households to the border. Vasil Balchuk, a Ukrainian man in his 50s, has introduced his spouse and kids right here.
“My spouse, daughter-in-law and kids are going to family within the Czech Republic,” he says. “I am at present serving within the territorial protection of Uzhhorod. If the Russians come right here too, I’ll combat. I’ve educated within the military.”
Like a lot of his compatriots, Balchuk firmly believes that the Russian military might be defeated by Ukraine: “We have to maintain Kyiv for a number of extra days, then Putin might be compelled to barter. And an unbiased Ukraine will survive.”
Nonetheless, he believes the scenario is just too harmful for his spouse and kids and prefers sending them to a protected overseas nation.
Escape to the Czech Republic
The ready time on the border appears infinite, for hours the road of vehicles doesn’t transfer in any respect or solely at a snail’s tempo. The border clearance workers is sluggish, particularly on the Ukrainian facet. In the meantime, extra folks from Ukraine hold arriving with the road of vehicles getting ever longer. Troopers from the Ukrainian border guard wrestle to take care of order.
Volunteer firefighters and help staff provide water, tea and refreshments for these ready. They’ve additionally arrange a big tent for folks to heat up a bit. However nobody from the lengthy queue in entrance of the border crossing heads there, afraid of shedding their hard-won spot within the line.
“Individuals, no pushing! We will not allow you to in till we get directions,” the commander of the Slovakian border guard unit retains shouting. No exceptions are made, solely diplomatic automobiles have precedence.
Tatiana needs to cross the border together with her 4 youngsters. “We’re going to Kolin in central Bohemia to go to my husband, he works on a building web site there,” she explains in fluent Czech. There are numerous folks right here with ties to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and that is the place they wish to go.
A checkered previous
Carpathian Ukraine, right now the Ukrainian area of Transcarpathia, was the easternmost a part of what was Czechoslovakia between the world wars.
In 1945, nonetheless, it was annexed by the Stalinist Soviet Union in a violation of the 1943 Czechoslovak-Soviet State Settlement. Because of this, hundreds of residents left their properties for Czechoslovakia. After the collapse of the USSR, different Carpatho-Ukrainians joined them to work on building websites and in factories within the successor states of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
At this time, about 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine have Czech citizenship, and 200,000 dwell completely within the Czech Republic. About 10,000 Ukrainians dwell in Slovakia with an enormous chunk belonging to the ethnic Ukrainian minority, which settled primarily in Presov and close to the Ukrainian border. There, place names and avenue indicators are each in Slovakian and Ukrainian.
In Uzhhorod, there are many reminders of its Czech previous like this bust of President Tomas Masaryk
Within the Ukrainian metropolis of Uzhhorod itself, there are a number of reminders of the Czech previous. A district with buildings of the Czechoslovak authorities from the Nineteen Thirties is a throwback to the time earlier than 1945. There’s additionally a monument to the primary Czechoslovakian president, Tomas Masaryk.
The bridge over the Uh River can also be named after him, as is an area faculty. “Masaryk’s Jubilee Faculty” says an indication in Czech on the entrance to the constructing.
Hub for refugees
At this time, Uzhhorod has 100,000 inhabitants. Earlier than the pandemic, the city with its picturesque location was very fashionable with vacationers. Now, all motels, guesthouses and hostels are absolutely booked by refugees from Ukraine.
“I do not know the place to begin working,” says Natalia from the Hostel Kakadu. “We’re utterly overcrowded, and new folks name on a regular basis asking for lodging.”
The hostel, she says, is now a refugee camp, housing folks from throughout Ukraine, however largely households with youngsters and lots of with pets.
“That is the final cat. No extra pets,” Natalia tells the brand new arrivals. Though she may, she has not raised costs. “You should not earn a living from battle,” she says. Many different locals see it the identical means.
Individuals in and round Uzhhorod imagine that the battle began by Russia is not going to unfold right here. “We’re protected by the mountains of the Carpathians, that are as much as 2,000 meters excessive, and the proximity to NATO international locations just like the Czech Republic or Slovakia,” Oleksandr Macucha mentioned throughout a dialogue with associates over a beer within the night. “
If the Russians wish to come right here, we are going to anticipate them within the mountains. They will not get via,” he provides
A buddy of Macucha’s is not so certain. “The mountains cannot cease bombers and missiles. They may assault us tomorrow,” the marginally older Arseniy says.
‘We’re combating for Europe’
Each the geographic proximity to Slovakia — and thus to the West —and the historic ties of the folks on both facet of the Ukrainian border has raised questions on why the area is being left to fend for itself.
“We now have monuments to Masaryk right here, we used to belong to Czechoslovakia. Why do not the Czechs, Slovakians and all of Europe come to our help now?” asks Vasil, a cab driver.
In latest days, the numbers of Ukrainian refugees on the Slovakian border have been rising
An aged Ukrainian girl on the border crossing asks Slovak President Zuzana Caputova for assist. “Please assist Ukraine, Madam President. We wish to get to Europe. Putin is attacking not solely Ukraine, but in addition you, Europe. In Ukraine, we’re combating for Europe.”
On the border crossings, each the Czech Republic and Slovakia are serving to the refugees. Within the first week, about 70,000 refugees crossed the border into Slovakia. Most of them have moved on to Ukrainian family and associates within the Czech Republic, whereas just a few thousand have stayed in Slovakia to this point.
“The primary stream of refugees hasn’t began but. And will probably be a lot, a lot larger,” an official from Slovakia’s presidential workplace informed DW. “However we’re prepared, we are able to accommodate tens of hundreds of refugees from Ukraine in our nation.”
This text was initially written in German.