Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, nearly 1,500 refugees a day have passed through Keleti Train Station, the largest international and inter-city terminal in Budapest, Hungary. Each day, refugees gather at Keleti station in dire need of shelter, food, clothing, toiletries, and other basic needs. Upon arrival each day, refugees are allotted twelve hours at the station to rest, eat, gather essential necessities, and arrange additional transportation.
When Maxima M. ’23, who calls both Turkey and Germany home, connected with her friends in Hungary during a recent school break, she discovered an ocean of need, but they also helped her identify a number of ways to help. She headed to the Keleti Train Station without hesitation.
Maxima recalled the last time she was at Keleti station, she was on holiday, headed to a music festival a year and a half ago. The contrast of what she encountered on March 9th was striking. She described a sea of refugees and volunteers, with little organization or even room to work. She began pitching in and did the best that she could to connect with people and help them find what they needed from the supplies that had been donated. She distinctly remembers a twelve year-old-boy who arrived alone and didn’t speak English. She helped him find a toothbrush. Maxima worked almost every day of her two-week school break, alternating between day and night shifts, often alone because her local friends were in school.
“I didn’t get much instruction on where to begin; my first task was to organize all of the donations. There were boxes and boxes of clothes, diapers, baby food, dog food, toothbrushes and so much more. I went to a long line of refugees coming from the train station and I just began asking people what they needed or what they wanted. Then I could go back to the donations, fill up a bag of what they asked for and bring it to them.”
During her time in Budapest, Maxima also participated in a peaceful demonstration held outside of Keleti station. People sang and shared stories. Participants then congregated to form a giant peace sign while holding torches that lit up the sky at night. She describes the experience as being incredibly emotional.
“It was just really emotional to see, looking these people in the eyes, talking to them, you see how exhausted, scared, and in shock they are,” she said. “I tried to talk to every person as if they were my friend and bond with them so they weren’t scared. You can donate and be aware of what’s going on, but it’s so much more real when you are there. I saw that anything I could do would help them, even just bringing them a sandwich helped the people so much.”
With every intention of returning to Budapest after school ends in June, Maxima is eager to continue to volunteer her time. She reflects on her two weeks in Budapest with a sense of pride.
“I think it would have been really sad to me if I had just seen it walking by and didn’t do anything,” she notes. “But I’m not sad, I’m happy because I know what I did made a difference. I have such good feelings about it knowing what I did and how important it was.”