More Czech interpreters needed at Slovak-Ukrainian border

Ubľa, Slovakia

Czech volunteers assisting Ukrainian refugees crossing at the Slovak border town of Ubľa are calling for more interpreters to bolster their numbers. Interpreters are needed for organising further transport of the refugees to the Czech Republic and other Western countries.

The Slovak border town of Ubľa is the northernmost crossing point between Ukraine and Slovakia. It is usually a small town of less than a thousand residents. At the moment, however, hundreds of refugees are passing through it daily as they escape the war in Ukraine.

A number of tents have been erected in front of the town’s cultural centre as a makeshift welcome point for the refugees, where they can gather some basic information and find help when they first arrive. Then, their onward journey to various parts of the Czech Republic needs to be organised, which is where the interpreters come in.

“Many of the refugees who arrive are afraid to get in a car with a stranger,” explains Olena, a Ukrainian women who has been living in Brno for the past 30 years. “They say they don’t want to ride with a stranger, they don’t know them. I try to reassure them and explain that the Czech Republic is a welcoming place, that these people are trustworthy and they have nothing to be afraid of.”

Ubľa,  Slovakia | Photo: Darko Vojinovic,  ČTK/AP

Olena emphasises the importance of speaking to the people fleeing their homes in their own language, and how essential this is for reassuring them and calming them down. But sometimes, she admits, the work can also be hard on her. “I’ve cried a few times, mainly because of the children. For them it is even worse than for the adults.” She estimates that she speaks to dozens if not hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a day.

Most of the volunteers are not trained interpreters – Olena herself does not earn her living from interpreting. Many are, like Olena, simply Ukrainians who have lived in the Czech Republic for a long time. But for this kind of emergency situation, all volunteers who speak even a little Ukrainian are welcome. Some volunteers are students, for example. Volunteers wear blue vests and name tags so they can be easily recognised.

According to Karolína Beránková, who coordinates the Czech volunteers in Ubľa, more interpreters are needed. They are looking for people who can stay at the border for at least a week. Interested parties may apply via the Facebook group Pomoc Ukrajině - Hraniční přechod Ubľa or via this Google Form. People offering other kinds of help, such as as drivers, doctors, or lawyers, can also volunteer using the same form.

However, interpreters and other volunteers will also be needed in the coming weeks, as the Slovak government predicts that the largest influx of refugees is yet to come.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Ondřej Vaňura
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