Bitter Christmas in Ukraine

2014. december 18., csütörtök

War. The Christmas of the people living in Sub-Carpathia, Ukraine is shadowed by tension, fear, bitterness and inflation. The war is still going on in the Eastern parts of Ukraine and at many Christmas tables the seats of the male members of the family will be empty. Local people would like peace for Christmas. The Hungarian Reformed Church Aid has delivered hundreds of shoeboxes, packages of food and other donations to the region.

 The Hungarian Reformed Church Aid has delivered hundreds of shoeboxes, packages of food and other donations to the region. However, the sixty stoves that had been sent to Sub-Carpathia have not arrived yet due to closure of customs posts, and the expensive gas is causing many problems to the Reformed institutions and congregations. The soldiers fighting in Donetsk have asked for a pastor to bring them the Lord’s Supper for Christmas. 

  Soldiers fighting in Donetsk have asked for a Hungarian flag for Christmas

  Twenty Hungarian young men serving in the Ukrainian army in Donetsk in a letter have asked for a small       package for Christmas. The soldiers have explicitly requested a Hungarian flag to be included in the gift-      parcel, because the quarters in which they live already has a Ukrainian, a Slovakian and a Romanian flag,  and only the Hungarian one is missing for all the nationalities to be represented. This well symbolises the fact  that not only the Ukrainian and the Russian have been involved in the war but all the nationalities of the  country. The request will be fulfilled by the members of the congregation in Beregszász (Berehove). The  Reformed soldiers have also asked to be given the Lord’s Supper by a pastor. It is uncertain yet whether this  request will be carried out.

 We travelled to Sub-Carpathia to see how people celebrate Christmas in a war-torn country.  We saw tension  and poverty on the spot. Although there is no war in Sub-Carpathia, the consequences of the state of war      affect this region as well. The value of the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia is inflating; salaries are stagnating  while prices are increasing. The poverty was well demonstrated by the fact that we saw several people      pushing bicycles loaded with wood – although for the time being gas supply is ensured, the price of the    energy source is increasing and people cannot pay its price.


Bitter, 50 per cent Christmas

Sub-Carpathian congregations have started the installation of furnaces with multiple solid fuel systems because, as Bishop of the Reformed Church in Sub-Carpathia Sándor Zán Fábián said, they cannot let Hungarian villages depend solely on gas. The wood-burning stoves installed in the congregations are important not only to make heating in the buildings of the congregations cheaper, but also to make the communal places of the Reformed congregation be able to function as daytime warming rooms if needed. Schools might be closed for two months, in the case of which it can be a big help for parents if their children are provided day-care in a heated room.


The bishop is of the opinion that at present Hungary is not in the situation that she could “embrace” Sub-Carpathia with its more than 1 million inhabitants and 150 000 Hungarians. He said it is not the right time to speak about autonomy or revision. This is not because they would not like to heal the decade-old bruises, but because they approach the question wisely. Sándor Zán Fábián thinks that if this was not the case, war would be going on in Sub-Carpathia as well.

I asked if it feels difficult to be the forgotten and smallest one among the parts of the country that were cut from Hungary in Trianon. He said: it might not be easy, but it is acknowledged and understood reasonably. “Our life is still much better than that of many other nationalities living around us, because the government of Hungary and the Reformed Church stand by us,” the bishop said.

The present situation changes the Christmas of every Hungarian family. This holiday will not be the same as the previous ones. Everyone is bitter because on Christmas Eve chairs will be left empty around the table as many men have been enlisted and many have fled abroad from the drafts and cannot come home because they fear of being taken to the war.

The positive side of the situation, as the bishop has experienced, is that people living in Sub-Carpathia count much more on each other, human relationships and togetherness have become more important. Money, however, is constantly decreasing: hryvnia is not worth the half of what it used to while salaries do not increase. Thus, as the bishop said, people living in Sub-Carpathia will have a fifty per cent Christmas. Something will be put on the tables and under the Christmas trees, but it is questionable what will happen next year.

They ask for peace for Christmas

We also asked two elderly ladies from Dean about their plans for Christmas, and they said that they would celebrate the holiday even in the strained circumstances. They hope that they will be able to cook as much of the traditional dish as possible: there is going to be stuffed cabbage, fish, meatballs and schnitzel on the table. Aunt Giza and Lenke said that meat is not really a problem because they rear pigs. But this year only children will get presents. The real concern, however, is not this: what the elderly ladies fear is the war going on in the Eastern part of the country and that the young men of their families will be enlisted - many have already received their call-up papers. They pray for the war to end. When posed with the the question what they would ask for as a present if they could ask for anything?  They said they would like peace and a little joy.  “We live in a war-torn country, and in this difficult situation we are even more in need of the preserving power of faith and for calling for the help of God”, dean and pastor of Dean Miklós Zsukovszky said. During the preaching that we visited he encouraged his congregation to help their fellow beings in spite of the difficult situation because there are people who live in even more severe conditions.

Families left without breadwinners are also helped

Many people think of Sub-Carpathia with love and help the people living there. Besides the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) and others, the congregations of the Transdanubian Reformed Church District at Kaposvár and Csurgó have also sent gift-parcels to the region. Pastor of the congregation at Kaposvár Zoltán Bellai told us that almost seven hundred boxes have been delivered, an act that can be regarded a tradition as this has been done now every year before Christmas for almost ten decades. In the last months and years the HRCA has brought a lot of help to the region. This year for example, besides gift-parcels they have delivered 150 000 Forints each for two families where the father has been enlisted in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine and thus the family members have been left without breadwinners.

The HRCA ha brought help to a kindergarten in Beregszász (Berehove) as well. Besides the shoeboxes, they have delivered cleansing products, duvets, washing powder and clothes as well, and all are needed indeed. It was quite a while ago that they had such a happy Christmas - said Head of the institution Tímea Kuzma. The parents of the Hungarian children live in difficult circumstances here; many of them suffer from lung disease. It is better for the children to be in the kindergarten than to stay home. The forty children practically live in the kindergarten and meet their parents only on weekend.

On our way we also visited a family in Beregszász(Berehove) where nine  children and one grandchild live together in a few square metres. The adult family members work, but help is still needed. The HRCA has brought durable consumer goods for them. Board Director of HRCA Foundation Sándor Pál has also promised to bring a pram next time - the family is in great need of this as the second grandchild is arriving soon. The HRCA has delivered aid to the rehabilitation centre maintained by the Reformed Church in Mezővári as well as to people in Dercen.


Furnaces not yet delivered due to closure of customs posts. 

Sixty furnaces have also been sent to Sub-Carpathia from Hungary but they have not arrived yet due to closure of customs posts. Lay President of the local Reformed church Béla Nagy said that they are waiting for the permission from Kiev to distribute the stoves to the congregations and grammar schools. The Lay President added that the diaconial department of the church district is also helping local people: this year they have already distributed with Dutch help four thousand and three hundred packages of durable consumer goods including flour, oil, rice-milk, tinned food, sugar and margarine.

The government counts on the Reformed Church

Minister of State for Social Affairs and Inclusion Károly Czibere also visited Sub-Carpathia and participated at the aid distributions of the HRCA. He said that it was important to demonstrate with his personal presence that local Hungarians are supported. The politician had discussions with leaders of the local Reformed church and expressed that the Reformed Church in Sub-Carpathia is continued to be considered a partner in the work geared towards the inclusion of the region.



Written by: Márk Hegedűs


Translated by: Annamária Kótay-Nagy

Photos: Richárd Kalocsai

Reformátusok Lapja 51-52/2014





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