Mayank Chhabra and Tetiana Rykhlyk, who is also known as Tanya—an Indo-Ukrainian couple—are tired, haggard, and worried. They had a good life in Boryspil, Kyiv. The airport township is 29 kilometres from the Ukrainian capital. It allowed Tanya, a stewardess with Air Ukraine, and Mayank, a transporter, to work and build a life close to where her parents stay. The couple had just invested in a new apartment and were planning to shift there last month. Instead, they landed up in bunkers. The last straw was a rocket entering the apartment building they were hoping to call home.
As Russia began pounding Kyiv, the couple took the call to leave. “We drove over four days from Kyiv to Chop (a city in western Ukraine). It was a risk,” Mayank tells News18 as he waits for a bus to Bucharest, Romania, from where he hopes to get a flight to India.
Tanya has left behind her family and promises to return to Ukraine. “My parents, sister, her family, they have all stayed back. My sister has a baby. They couldn’t have travelled with the infant,” she says, worried about their safety.
The journey to Chop was a perilous one. “We avoided the highways because they were getting bombed. It was a risk we took but we drove inside villages, took roads that were broken or not made properly, but it saved us from the bombs that we could hear,” Tanya says. She adds that they were lucky to find helpful people who gave them shelter at night before they began the road journey again for four days. “Near Chop, a contact of my mother-in-law lives, so we dropped the car at her place and then walked to the railway station. It was packed with people,” Mayank recalls.
Chop is the border train station separated from Hungary’s Zahony town by the river Tisza. Refugees coming from Ukraine board the train at Chop, cross over to Zahony, where Hungarian authorities after checking the papers allow them to travel to Budapest or elsewhere.
But Mayank and Tanya had nowhere to go. At the Zahony refugee tent, they met Indian-Hungarian Ajay Soni, a bank employee who had taken leave from office to help Ukrainian evacuees. Mayank says Soni and his Hungarian wife, Sonine dr. Togyer Hajnalka, offered them shelter. Soni has set up a tent at the Zahony border with funds and help from his engineering mates of India. But for several families escaping Ukraine, they have opened up their residence in the Budapest suburbs too.
“Two other families from Ukraine were already staying at their home in Budapest, yet they didn’t hesitate to take in complete strangers like us. For days, we lived at their house till we got a call from the Indian embassy about an evacuation flight,” Mayank says.
When News18 met Tanya and Mayank, Sonine, a lawyer by profession, had driven the couple from the outskirts of Budapest to the city centre control room of the Indian embassy just minutes before the evacuation bus to Bucharest pulled out. The couple can’t thank the strangers enough for their help and humanity, but Tanya vows to return. “Ukraine is my home. Whatever Russia might do, we will win because Ukraine has many heroes. I will go back soon and be in my land,” she signs off.