Ukraine claims that POWs transferred to Hungary may still be detained

June 20. 2023. – 01:48 PM


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A spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has made serious accusations against the Hungarian government, Hungarian news agency MTI reports. They claim that to date they have not been able to contact the eleven prisoners of war who were brought to Hungary under unknown circumstances, which they believe could mean that the Hungarian authorities have not actually released the Ukrainian citizens.

However, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry asks the Hungarian authorities for information about this in vain, and they claim that the Hungarian authorities do not respond to their requests.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kyiv, the POW Coordination Centre and other relevant Ukrainian authorities will continue to do their utmost to ensure the return of Ukrainian POWs who were transferred from Russia to Hungary without the knowledge of the Ukrainian government and international human rights organisations," said Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a Facebook post.

"Every single attempt by our diplomats to establish direct contact with the Ukrainian citizens has failed. This, and the information received from the relatives of many of them, may indicate that the Hungarian authorities have not, contrary to their claims, granted free status to the Ukrainian soldiers."

According to Nikolenko, the POWs continue to be held in isolation, with no free access to information and only allowed to communicate with relatives in the presence of a third party – and are also denied contact with the Ukrainian embassy.

"Unfortunately, the Hungarian authorities ignore the Ukrainian side's efforts to engage in constructive dialogue. This calls into question Budapest's so-called humanitarian approach to the Ukrainian POWs. Moreover, this case may have violated the European Convention on Human Rights", the spokesperson stressed.

He added that the ministry had asked the Hungarian side to allow the Ukrainian consul to access the detainees to assess their physical and mental condition on their return from Russia, inform them of their rights and provide them with consular protection. "Ukraine continues to await the return of its servicemen and is ready to provide maximum assistance to help them return to their families and receive the necessary rehabilitation."

Zsolt Semjén at a public forum in Kazincbarcika on 28 February 2022 – Photo by Noémi Napsugár Melegh / Telex
Zsolt Semjén at a public forum in Kazincbarcika on 28 February 2022 – Photo by Noémi Napsugár Melegh / Telex

Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office, said at a government briefing on Monday that the Transcarpathian prisoners of war are no longer legally considered prisoners of war, they are free to go wherever they want. Those who are not Hungarian citizens have been granted refugee status, (implying that most of them are). The minister said that those who had asked for it had come here, not at the government's initiative, but in cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Hungarian Maltese Aid, which conforms to all regulations. He said it was a good decision to take this opportunity.

Ukraine was informed about the case after the former POWs arrived in Hungary, and according to Gulyás, they were no longer legally POWs when they arrived in the country. After their arrival, the foreign ministry informed Kyiv that eleven soldiers of Transcarpathian origin (mostly of Ukrainian nationality) who had previously fought in the Ukrainian army and had been captured by Russia had been brought to Hungary but their names were not disclosed to Kyiv, which is why Ukraine may have had to find out exactly who and which of their former soldiers they were.

The serious diplomatic affair surrounding the POWs is an unprecedented scandal in Hungarian foreign policy: according to the Hungarian website of Radio Free Europe, the POWs, some of whom do not speak Hungarian at all, were brought to Hungary through the mediation of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén. Neither the Ukrainian side nor the Hungarian government knew about the case beforehand.

We have also contacted Zsolt Semjén's office with our questions, but they have not responded to our inquiries. The Hungarian government is visibly trying to deflect responsibility for the case, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has so far not said a word about the diplomatic scandal presumably caused by his deputy.

The transfer of prisoners of war to Hungary left many questions unanswered, which we have tried to answer in this article.

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