Late on the evening of March 5, we reached the head of the Lviv center, Giuliano Stochino-Weiss of the Hungarian Ecumenical Relief Organization (MÖSZ), who asked us about the situation in Ukraine and western Ukraine. Were we wondering what we really needed right now?
At dawn on February 24, I called and asked what we could help, if we could volunteer on either side of the border, what to collect, and questions like that. You were still in Afghanistan at the time and you started packing for the news right away. Since then, we’ve also realized that it’s best for everyone to help in the area where they know the most, so we’ve immediately embarked on our legal digitization platform, Legisly, and the legal clinic we have completed is able to connect border students with volunteer law students and lawyers online. who can help after studying a compiled piece of legislation. Tomorrow, ie March 7, we will be on the spot and you will be able to find us here and beyond at the information points of MÖSZ. How do you see the situation from Lviv (Lemberg) now, are you safe?
Yes, we managed to settle here in Lemberg, Western Ukraine and everyone is safe thank God. The spin around me is huge, despite the fact that there are still 11 offices under construction and coordination going on.
I am very pleased with this! How many Hungarians are you?
There are two more Hungarians in Lemberg and Transcarpathia, but for the time being we and six volunteers are helping us with our work.
As an employee of MÖSZ, you started packing up in Afghanistan the moment the war broke out. What exactly is your job?
The real thing is to build peace and a professional relief organization in a situation where there was none. Currently, my colleague, Lóránt, and I have the task of building a logistics bridge, and that is an interesting situation. This was not the task in Afghanistan, as it is very far-reaching here, but taking advantage of the fact that the organization has been working in Ukraine since 1993, we immediately set to work. What we are doing here now is the so-called “emergency phase”, which means we immediately started to assess the situation and help in acute areas. In addition, we assess local procurement and with local actors, so-called. we negotiate with “quick reaction found”. In addition, we will contact the local coordination and join the international coordination, which was not working for us when we got here. We also had a very long UN discussion and we have a very good application that the aid organization has been using for a long time, through which we communicate. It is often not safe for us to get to a place, and this collects essentially all the information and we upload important details here. Importantly, we’re not the kind of aid organization that arrives, takes photos, and is already going home, we’re thinking of a long-term presence. In Lemberg, it will be a coordination office, so we will not only help in the county. The war could have several political outcomes, and the goal is to help the central areas of Ukraine by pushing further in, if that happens.
What are the primary civilian aspects of such a crisis?
Which is very tangible: it was hard to imagine that in our lives there could still be a situation in Europe where we have to pack up for an hour and have to leave our whole lives there. For example, what would you take with you? The other is that you have to go out to the train station afterwards. Even if you have a car, you can’t use it because there is no fuel, then you can’t fit your suitcases, you have to leave them behind and your kids don’t understand everything and everyone is afraid. And then one day you will arrive somewhere after 18 hours, say to Lemberg or to the Hungarian border and you still don’t know anything. A lot of people are experiencing post-traumatic experiences, so this is a war that will define us forever, and not just the Ukrainians, but all of us. How we got here: a sovereign country is attacking another completely illegally.
And what can I do to help you on the spot now?
The first is that at the transit point in the Lviv Arena, where people arrive in waves, we have set up a children’s corner where, for a while, children can forget what’s going on. Tomorrow we will help to transform an orphanage into a reception point, here we will help the so-called. with “wash-kits” that are hygienic packs as there are few among the packs you take with you and the stores are closed or empty. We see that local sourcing will be terribly difficult, which is why keeping in touch with locals is important. Today we had a survey of larger warehouses. Interestingly, there has been a “war” between aid organizations in this area, as the storage of incoming packages is a key issue. Today we just had to fight with a French organization for a warehouse, but of course we always agree on these, everyone wants to help.
It’s good to see that both the corporate and civil spheres at home are shut down and want to help. But what can help you the most in this case?
Clearly: with food. It is no longer possible to get food that is long-lasting. For example, we have had a contract with Metro for a long time, we thought that was a sure point, but the war overwrote it too and they can’t help it. But what’s probably the most important thing you do besides food is legal help. Through these, people learn that half – if not the whole – world is behind them. On the third day of the war, Lóránt and I reached Beregszász, and standing on the Ukrainian side of the Surányi crossing, we saw people flocking to us, the “blue coats,” to find out what was on the other side. We then built the information point where you have now moved out and seeing the newcomers there, I consider the most important thing to be the transfer of information. That is why we are working on installing telephone chargers at train stations, as telephone information will be available through it, e.g. it’s also the legal line that Legisly has developed – so it’s all about it.
This unprecedented civic collaboration will surely be included in the history books. And how important is legal aid among these aids?
Look, every donation counts, it has to be nailed down. We are now experiencing this as our grandparents in World War II, it is an event of such significance, everything will change with it forever. And the fact that such an unprecedented civic coalition has developed is fantastic. There are many forms of help: material donations are very important, they are
the so-called “hard” donations, the tangible. These are needed when they arrive in Hungary,
when they are safe, since returning to storage: here in a war situation this is amazingly difficult to solve. Outside, however, we need to get financial support, but over-aid can develop, which is again a problem.
The other is a recently launched form of aid, a series of “soft” aids. You belong here too.
When someone who has left their husband, homeland, home, souvenirs behind does not have to worry about what is waiting on the other side of the border, what rights do they have? it can be as much support and help that I can’t even feel right now. I remember talking to a family in Kharkiv with whom we shared the information available and I remember the joy of having it. That is why it is good that you are working for MÖSZ, because at the information points we can tell you in what direction they are going, and then with Legisly as well. These are quite amazing things. And I’m so glad you say you’ll be present at the border from here and beyond, as lines of up to 15 miles can form. They stand there for hours, but they can get through by getting the information they need from you, through your volunteers. The border is the last step for them, with many fears of waiting for several hours as they go to a country whose language, customs, rights and dare to speak on behalf of the aid organization, that we are very happy that you have set up a platform that it provides this assistance.
We are very happy about that! Is there legal support available locally at the moment?
Yes, the charity has already set up a directive on what is essential in this, but we do not have the capacity to provide the same level of help as you. So these information points are there to guide you in the same directions as yours. So I can honestly say that we owe a great deal of gratitude to your volunteers and also for doing this work with MÖSZ, as it is completely gap-filling.
We’re glad we can help and I’m glad we were able to bring this conversation together as you have a lot to do! We will continue to recruit among candidates, lawyers and students, and tomorrow we will start work on both sides of Beregsurány.
And if you want to volunteer for the Legisly Law Clinic, you can do so at the link below. We are waiting for you if:
- you are a law student or a lawyer,
- you have a few hours a week to help you at a time of your choice
- you speak English and / or Ukrainian (especially the latter is important but not a criterion),
- you can review the compiled legislation,
- important: you can get help from anywhere with a laptop / smartphone / computer.
Giuliano Stochino-Weiss was interviewed by Keczán Pali