Pope Francis attending the screening of the film "Freedom on fire" Pope Francis attending the screening of the film "Freedom on fire"  (ANSA)

Hungarian Parliamentarian for Ukraine: 'Pope Francis' support gives great hope'

Pope Francis' support is well known, says the representative of the Ukrainian minority in the Hungarian Parliament. She explains how the Pope's countless appeals for peace and closeness for her suffering countrymen and women have been a source of hope for a religious people who have faith they will be able to return home.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov  - Budapest

Pope Francis' closeness and support to the suffering Ukrainian people are well known, insists Liliana Grexa, Spokesperson of the Ukrainian minority in the Hungarian Parliament.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, the representative of the Ukrainian community in the country, discusses the reality of displaced Ukrainians who have found welcome in Hungary, what the visit and appeals of the Pope - whom she describes as "a symbol of unity and faith" - mean to them, and how they are able to keep hope despite the war that has been claiming lives for more than a year just across Hungary's northeast border.

If you were to illustrate the morale of Ukrainians in Hungary or of those passing through Hungary at this time, would you say they are able to keep hope alive? Or are they hopeless and depressed? And how are they integrating?

Ukrainians are religious and don't lose their faith. They believe in God and they believe that the truth will win and that the aggressor will leave their country. Everybody hopes and believes that they can return home, continue their normal life and will be able to see their children grow in freedom. I think, without hope, there is no victory. And without hope, there is no life and there is no peace.

Ukrainians here in Hungary try to live their normal life. Of course, at the same time they try to help Ukraine in different ways and they pray every day for their relatives, for the victory of Ukraine, and for peace. They won't lose their hope. Of this, I'm certain.

Ukrainian refugees arrive in Hungary after the Russian invasion
Ukrainian refugees arrive in Hungary after the Russian invasion

Has this role always existed in the Hungarian Parliament, or was it created because of the war?

The appointment of a spokesperson and even of the delegates of minorities in Hungary has existed practically since 2014. Each minority can have their spokespersons in the parliament representing them. Originally, the main task of the spokesperson of the Ukrainian minority was to represent the interest of Hungarian citizens of Ukrainian origin. I was elected last year in April, but it was never a question of representing only Hungarian citizens with Ukrainian roots, but also the Ukrainians who left their country because of the war.

Even prior to my election at the beginning of March, when I was only a nominee for the position of spokesperson of the Ukrainian minority, the Ombudsman of Minority Rights contacted me in order to get in touch with volunteer translators from our community and the other organizations, like, for example, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Volunteer Center, because the Ombudsman of Minority Rights wanted to have, direct, information from the Ukrainian community, and also from the people who left Ukraine because of the war.

After my election in April, I got in touch with the most active organizations that had started to help Ukraine and displaced Ukrainians who arrived in Hungary.

Which did you reach out to?

For example, IOM, UNHCR, the Catholic Caritas, the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, the Red Cross, Migration Aid, and even, HelpU Radio. This is a radio which was launched in order to help with information for displaced Ukrainians across Europe. After the war started, I think all of Europe started to help Ukraine. And I think Christians, and even not religious people, understood that it's a very hard time for Ukrainian people. So that's why everyone helped, and so did I.

Ukrainian refugee children in a kindergarden in Budapest
Ukrainian refugee children in a kindergarden in Budapest

Could you tell us about your experience with Ukrainians in the country that prepared you for this position?

Since my mother is Ukrainian and I was an active part of the Ukrainian community in Hungary from my childhood, I was involved in a variety of ways with my Ukrainian roots and minority rights in my youth and throughout my career. In 2014, when the war started in Ukraine, I decided to deal with the Ukrainian minorities’ questions in a more formal way. Here in Hungary, we have the possibility to organize a municipality for our minority. When I was elected in 2014 as President of the Ukrainian municipality in Budapest and later as President of the Youth and Media Commission at the Ukrainian National municipality, I had the possibility to learn the practice of the operation of this kind of so-called local government. So prior to nominating and electing me as the spokesperson of a minority in the Hungarian parliament, the Ukrainian community checked my abilities and achievements on different levels and different spheres.

When I was nominated for this position, I didn't know there would be such a hard situation since I was nominated in October 2020. When the war started, then I understood that it would be a much greater task, than what I imagined prior to my election.

But of course, it is not a question for me that I'm trying to do my best in this position and trying to reassure the displaced people who arrived from Ukraine that there are, there is somebody who can support them, even from the parliament. I invited more than 500 displaced Ukrainian people to visit the Hungarian parliament, I also organised different cultural programs for them. I spoke to them in Ukrainian of course. All of our community tries to help these displaced people to help them feel as if they were at home. Of course, it's not their home, but we are here, the Ukrainian community, to help them.  This is our task. We do so without having a rest because, the situation in Ukraine is so hard that, it's the minimum we can do.

Ukrainians fleeing the war arrive in Hungary
Ukrainians fleeing the war arrive in Hungary

What issues are you advocating most for them?

Those who arrive may find themselves in different situations, they may need accommodation, food, clothes. There are some organisations which are specific to these issues, but there are other organisations which provide a kindergarten for example, or a weekend school for Ukrainian children, and there are some who organise workshops and "information hours" in order for them to know their rights and their possibilities. It's a large-scale activity. The Hungarian and the Ukrainian community here in Hungary try to unite in this question and help each other in order to help the displaced persons.

Could you tell me about the structures helping Ukrainians, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church started to work on the first day of the invasion of Russia in Ukraine. They launched the volunteer center at the headquarters of the Ukrainian National Self-government. And they collected clothes and food and other things which were very useful for the displaced persons who came to our center. A lot of Ukrainians and even foreigners went to work in this volunteer center which carried on even after all of the organizations had to leave the railway stations where the Ukrainian displaced people arrived. It was a very active part of help, I think. And that's why we are very grateful that we have a leader here, Damian Gaboriy, the priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, because he doesn't only help the people in the church, but outside of the church too. Every weekend, 250 Ukrainian children join the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church school. So it was a huge task to organize everything, but they did it. So we are very grateful to them.

As Pope Francis is visiting Hungary, how would you describe the current situation of the Ukrainian community in the country, of those who find themselves in Ukraine? And is there a certain memory or anecdote that you recall in particular?

Since Ukrainians are religious, I think it's very important for them that they can see Pope Francis and listen to his prayer. Some Catholic organizations have organized events for displaced persons in order to give them the possibility to take part in the Mass. For example, I also have the possibility of inviting 20 people to the Mass of Pope Francis in the church through the Catholic Caritas Aid Organization. It's a great honour.

Pope Francis is well known for being very supportive of those who are in need, and these displaced Ukrainians - far from their homes, from their relatives, - husbands and sons who are fighting on the front - are really in need of moral support. That's why I think that it will be a very memorable and, even a life-changing event for them

Would you say that Pope Francis' appeals for Ukraine have reached or had an impact on the Ukrainians who have found themselves in Hungary?

Yes. For sure, the arrival of Pope Francis is one of the most significant events, not only for Ukrainians but also for Hungarians, because Hungarians are also very religious. This visit is a symbol of the fact that the whole world is praying together for victory of Ukraine and for peace and also praying for every lost life that cannot be returned. And I think the Pope is a symbol of unity and faith, that goodness exists and that God's power is great.

Ukrainian refugees
Ukrainian refugees

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28 April 2023, 07:51