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Hungarian pastor steps in to help Ukraine’s Roma minority refugee family

by Reuters Journalist

In the poorest street of Tiszabecs, a tiny village on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, the local Roma community now gives shelter to 150-200 Roma who fled western Ukraine in the past few days, half of them children.

Their local pastor, 44-year-old Attila Pater, who has been working for the Hungarian Pentecostal Church on both sides of the border, decided to find room for the large Roma families on the first night people started fleeing en masse from Ukraine, scared by the Russian invasion.

The first night around 300 people came, he says, some of whom went on to other places and relatives and now Pater takes care of around 150 to 200 refugees locally. They are put up on mattresses with 15-20 people sharing a room in the small houses. Inside, children play while some women wash clothes by hand. There are only a couple of portable toilets.

"They (the refugees) all lost the same thing ... no matter whether they come from villas or from slums, they left everything behind and what we need to do is to make up for this loss in their soul: to show them there is hope," Pater said.

In the parish yard, a few local Roma women are chopping vegetables and bacon, preparing to cook a soup for over a hundred people in giant iron cauldrons. 

Small children run around and a boy gets a quick haircut.

Pater said many of the Roma, who are Hungarian-speaking although they live in Ukraine, are scared their boys would be taken away to fight in the Ukrainian army against Russia.

Some families had lost sons, fathers and husbands in the fighting with Russia in 2014. 

"This is still alive in their hearts and... they fled from this, this fear, even though there is no war right here close to the border," Pater added.

Many of these families come from even deeper poverty in Ukraine than in the small villages on the Hungarian side.

Sandor Mate, 19, who arrived with his three sisters and parents, speaks a few words in English he learnt in school. 

"I have come over as I am afraid. I already received two draft calls, or povestka in Ukrainian this situation there are lots of rumours going around that they would come by car and would just fetch you," he said.


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