By Anita Komuves
tBUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Ukrainians who were on vacation in Egypt when Russia invaded their country have arrived in Budapest in recent days, with most setting off for home even as fighting there grows worse by the day.
Chartered flights organised by the Ukrainian and Egyptian embassies in Hungary have brought 2,600 Ukrainians to Budapest from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since March 5 and would end on Friday, spokesperson for Budapest Airport, Katalin Valentinyi, told Reuters.
Ukraine closed its airspace to commercial flights when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he calls “a special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24. More than 2.3 million people have now fled the country, according to the United Nations.
Some of those arriving in Budapest had already made plans to travel to Poland, Germany or other European countries to stay with relatives. The majority however was determined to go home, boarding buses provided by the police and fire brigade to take them to the next train to Zahony at the Hungary-Ukraine border.
“I am not afraid of anything, I am going home. Those are my people, that is my land,” said 72-year-old Ekaterina, who was resting at the airport before continuing on the next leg of her journey to her home city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine.
“People are knitting camouflage nets now… sewing clothes for the military. We will have plenty of work there,” she said.
Ukraine said on Thursday Moscow had snubbed its plea for humanitarian access to rescue hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped under bombardment. High-level talks between the two sides held in Turkey yielded nothing.
The Ukrainians arriving at Budapest Airport were greeted by volunteer translators who helped them with their onward journey or to find accommodation for the night while handing out bananas, chocolate bars and water to exhausted children.
Some families decided to split up and were headed to different countries, saying emotional goodbyes at the airport.
Olga and Aleksandr Martinenko were returning home to Kyiv with their two children. “We have everything there. Our parents, school, friends, and our cat,” Olga, 35, told Reuters.
“We will defend (our) land… What else to do? We can’t hide now.”
(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)