The Carpathian mountain chain lies along Ukraine’s border with Hungary.The vibrant and well-established Hungarian community inside Ukraine has escaped, like the rest of western Ukraine, the ravages that have swept Donbass and the east.
This is agricultural country, and despite being poorer than the rest of the country, life is gentler and prices are much much lower. The region gets financial aid from Budapest, and many towns and villages are twinned with Hungarian communities.
“As in the whole of Ukraine, Transcarpathia can feel the effect of the war, because the country is at war. Retail sales dropped 25 % this year. The situation is not as bad here as in eastern Ukraine, where there’s fighting, but people can feel it in their everyday lives,” says economist Oszkar Balogh.
There is less money, but it goes further than in Kyiv, yet the region is crying out for investment and like much of western Ukraine is a potential agricultural powerhouse if only modernised and restructured.
“Transcarpathia was never among the richer regions of Ukraine. The war just deteriorated the situation. People earn generally 120 euros per month. Foreign investors and tourists stay away from the region, although the war is far from here,” says euronews’ Beatrix Asboth.
“Since war broke out, tourism changed. For example Hungarian tourists don’t come, only a couple of groups came last year, but Ukrainians come, they come every weekend,” says a guesthouse owner in Getsa, Klara Fazekas.
Cross-border trade and shopping into an EU member makes up for the many shortages for those who can make the trip, and afford the prices. But it is the locals who need income.
“We get aid from Hungary through a special program. First of all there are state funds. The Hungarian government launched a program catering for children for example, or supporting teachers. We mainly receive money which the communities can use for whatever they need,” said the Mayor of Getsa, Andras Mester.
Many here are leaving for Slovakia, the Czech republic or Hungary, even to Kyiv to escape the poverty. When asked why some say reforms are too slow and the economy is so broken they have given up waiting for the change the country so urgently needs.