“Thanks to the József Pécsi Scholarship of Photography, the photo reporter of Magyar Nemzet has repeatedly visited Subcarpathia. He met with soldiers returning from the battlefields, families mourning for their relatives, Tatar refugees from the Crimea. And with extraordinary hospitality.
One does not start a major photo report without preparation, so I also started to inquire on the subject before going to Subcarpathia. First, I contacted a local journalist, who accompanied me to several places, introduced me to a number of persons, and, when necessary, translated for me. He was my fixer, as those persons with a local knowledge are known in the journalist jargon, who, in the course of a major field work, guide and assist foreign journalists and photographers.
The first time I went there was March. I clearly remember the day. I went to Verbőc/Verbovec, to the funeral of a soldier fallen in the Eastern Ukrainian conflict. After three hundred and sixteen kilometers I arrived at the border. Passport. Documents. Control. Arrival in Subcarpathia. Bad roads. The imprints of the past, everywhere. Grayness. Pouring rain. And, on the way out of Bereszász/Beregovo, police fines. Not little ones. Nearly an hour of delay. Exhausted, I returned to my quarters.
However much I tried, the first few times I could not find the local rhythm. Then I was presented to more and more people who helped me. For example, Aunt Slava, whose son is a 22-year-old soldier on contract. She is in permanent contact with the Subcarpathian soldiers at the front, she knew the answers to all my questions, and helped me in everything. Otherwise, she teaches Ukrainian language in the Hungarian class of a bilingual school.
And quite often I had good luck. For example, in Kőrösmező/Yasinia, where I accidentally set out in the wrong direction to the mountains, this is how I stumbled upon Olena, who moved from Russia to Subcarpathia. Or when one evening, on the way to our lodgings, we caught sight of a flickering candle in a neighboring window. Our host, a Hungarian family, told me that an old lady lived there, Mária András, who prays every morning and evening like this. We managed to get in to visit her, and she allowed me to take some photos of her while praying. Or Uncle Frédi in Fancsika/Fanchikovo, who heard about my wandering about in Subcarpathia and shooting people’s everyday life. He told a friend of his in the village that he’d be happy to show me his doves.
And there were the Hungarian families who lost their loved ones in the war. I spent hours with them. On many occasions I did not even take my camera out, we just talked. On 16 September, Sándor Lőrinc was buried in Fancsika. When I heard about the funeral, I got into the car, and went to see the family the previous evening. I introduced myself, I told them who I was, where I came from, what I was after. I talked a lot to Sándor’s mother, Aunt Anna. I was also allowed to be present at the all-night vigil in a small room of the small house, at the coffin covered with the Ukrainian flag. The next day, at the funeral, there were many people, all the inhabitants of the village. And many Ukrainian soldiers, whom I had met in Verbőc in March. They approached me, and said they hope to meet us next time at some more cheerful event.
After the funeral I wanted to return to Budapest. However, Aunt Anna told me I cannot go before having dinner with them. I made excuses, but she would not let me go. They even packaged donuts for the road. Budapest is far away, it will be fine.
Fancsika/Fanchikovo. Funeral of the Hungarian soldier Sándor Lőrinc, fallen in the Eastern Ukrainian conflict
Wherever I went during this time in Subcarpathia, I encountered a friendly welcome. And not only with Hungarian families. I also visited Tatar families who had fled from the Crimea, and with whom we talked through a computer translation program. The kids really enjoyed it that sometimes we did not understand each other, and we explained ourselves by gestures. Activity. I had visited soldiers, volunteers, who collected food and clothes for the Subcarpathian soldiers on the battlefields. In Aknaszlatina/Solotvino, among the ruins of the old salt mine, we stumbled upon Uncle Yura, who had worked there, and is now a night watchman in the mine area. We also met Uncle Béla, in whose garden there is a huge “crater”, because the ground had collapsed above a former mine.
The number of Hungarians in Subcarpathia has been drastically reduced. In the census of 2001, about a hundred and fifty thousand declared themselves as Hungarians. There are many mixed marriages in which the children no longer speak Hungarian. In the bleak economic situation, only those who are able try to find work abroad. It is much harder who decide to stay. They live on little money from day to day, but they believe that it is not hopeless to stay, and that they will have a future in their homeland. Which, by the whims of history, has changed hands five times in the last hundred years.”