Shelter from the Storm: An Interview with Edina Varga

April 4, 2022

It was February 25, one day after the outbreak of the war, when the first CEU alum from Ukraine arrived at the Kerepesi Residence Center. Since then, dozens more and their families followed, seeking refuge at the dorm. For more than a month now they’ve been provided rooms and daily meals. A playroom and games have been set up for children and teens. Counselling services are offered twice a week. 

Since the war – and the influx of CEU alumni and African students fleeting Ukraine – began, Edina Varga, director of the Residence Center, has been at the forefront, coordinating the response alongside her colleagues. We spoke with her about the situation, the importance of continued alumni involvement, and how this crisis has transformed the CEU dorm.

How many alumni and their families have you helped in the dorm so far? 

So far, we have helped 16 alumni and their family members [including children, friends, and others, totaling 49 people] in the dorm. Some of them stayed only a few nights before travelling further, but most of them are seeking a more permanent shelter at the dorm. Besides alumni and their families, we have been providing food and shelter to external Ukrainian refugees as well. It’s quite a busy period for us.

What do you feel is the most important thing about these efforts?  

I’m very glad that we can support Ukrainian refugees at the dorm. When the war started we made all vacant rooms available to them.  I find it very important to answer alumni requests promptly, even on weekend. I imagine that an immediate confirmation [of] support can be crucial in their situation.

When they arrive, they receive a warm welcome and I hope they feel very much supported throughout their stay.

What is the most challenging thing about this situation?  

When the first displaced people arrived at the dorm, we lacked much information; they had questions we couldn’t answer. Now things are much more organized and we can assist them with different things, like medical support, free transportation, humanitarian residence permits, etc.

When the war broke out many in the CEU community offered help. We received lots of emails. It was heart-warming to see how people mobilized to help alumni. But at the same time it was challenging to answer all of them and connect the offers with the need side. 

How can alumni get involved and help?  

Alumni can help through the donation drives that take place in Budapest at the main campus and at the dorm. Donated items are partly offered to refugees at the dorm and sent to organizations working with refugees too. Alumni can get involved in offering assistance in the form of transportation, translation, organizing activities for children and adults. *

Any additional thoughts?  

The dorm has changed significantly since we’ve been hosting the families. There have never been so many kids at the dorm. We are truly touched to see them with their scooters in the garden, drawing in the playroom, or smiling when we give them a piece of chocolate. However, it’s sad to see that most of the refugee families consist of only mothers, children and grandparents, but no fathers. We receive lots of warm words from refugees, and it means a lot to us!

Sincere thanks to Edina and her team for their amazing work. Thank you! 

*NOTE: Alumni are also volunteering to offer additional services and programs for refugees from Ukraine in Budapest. See details. If you’re an alum in Budapest and wish to volunteer, tell us