07 January 2023

Ukrainian children in Budapest
recall the lasting horrors of war

Children at the Ukrainian Space daycare programme in Budapest celebrate Western Epiphany and Ukrainian Christmas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Amber Jackson from the diocese communications team in the Diocese of Europe and Patrick Comerford from USPG are visiting Anglican chaplaincies in Hungary and Finland to see how they are supporting Ukrainian refugees with funding from the joint Ukraine appeal.

Patrick Comerford visits the Ukrainian Space daycare programme in central Budapest

The Feast of the Epiphany in the Western Church coincides with the Ukrainian Orthodox celebrations of Christmas Eve.

The children at the Ukrainian Space daycare programme in the heart of Budapest marked the coincidence this week of these two days with a nativity puppet show that began with the story of the Three Kings from the East following the star to Bethlehem.

On their way, they meet King Herod, a despotic ruler who pretends he too wants to pay homage to the new-born child while he harbours a plot to kill innocent children.

The Ukrainian children and parents could hardly have failed to recognise the comparison between the evil intentions of Herod and Putin’s plots that have forced them to flee their own home country. Nor could they have failed to compare the journey of the Wise Men from the East and the journey refugee families have made in the past year from Ukraine in the East to seek safety in Hungary and other countries to the West of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Space daycare programme in Budapest offers schooling in Ukrainian to about 20 children between the ages of 8 and 16. The project also provides parental networking opportunities, psychological counselling, and language tuition for all ages in Hungarian, English and other Western languages.

The project has received grants from the Bishop’s Refugee Appeal in the Diocese in Europe and USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), through the efforts of the Revd Dr Frank Hegedus, the priest and chaplain at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest.

The director of Ukrainian Space, Vladimir Pukish, speaks of how the needs of schoolgoing children were identified immediately as Ukrainian refugees began to pour into Hungary when Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago and war broke out.

He says most of the children are attending Hungarian schools in the morning and often keep up with their Ukrainian education back home through online facilities. The project helps them to integrate into local schools.

Father Frank explains how grants channelled through Saint Margaret’s have also provided food and drinks for children and parents during regular breaks and given the children opportunities for sightseeing views to museums and other centres in Budapest.

Grants have also helped meet staff costings, psychological support and pet therapy.

A collection of paintings on the walls illustrate the horrors of war these children have witnessed, but also depict their hope for the future.

Many refugees have already moved on from Hungary to other countries. I asked how many families hoped to go home when the war ends. ‘They have nothing to go back for,’ Father Frank explains, with sadness in his eyes. ‘They have lost not just their homes, but their entire towns and cities.’

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is a former Trustee of USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and blogs at www.patrickcomerford.com

Children’s paintings illustrate the horrors of war they have seen in Ukraine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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