Hungary ignoring requests for contact with war prisoners: Ukraine

Kyiv says prisoner transfer serves Orban’s interests, but Budapest claims POWs are free to leave.

Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) are seen after a swap, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Yevhenii Zavhorodnii
Ukrainian prisoners of war after a swap in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine [File: Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Reuters]

A diplomatic row is brewing between Ukraine and Hungary as Kyiv accuses Budapest of ignoring its requests for contact with prisoners of war who were allegedly secretly transferred from Russia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymitro Kuleba has called the move an act of self-interest by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has kept strong political and economic ties with Russia despite its war on Ukraine.

Hungary said on June 9 that it had received a group of 11 Ukrainian prisoners of war from Russia.

“All attempts by Ukrainian diplomats over recent days to establish direct contact with Ukrainian citizens have failed,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on his Facebook page on Monday.

“This, as well as information received from the relatives of some of them, indicates that the Hungarian authorities’ assurances of the alleged free status of Ukrainian defenders in Hungary are not true,” he said.

Hungarian and international media quoted Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, as saying on Monday that the soldiers arrived “on their own free will” and Kyiv was informed after their transfer.

“They can also leave the country freely at any time of their own free will. We do not check or monitor them,” Gulyas was quoted as saying.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reportedly said that Budapest was not officially involved in the prisoners’ transfer, adding that it was organised by religious organisations.

But Kuleba said the operation to transfer the prisoners was carried out solely in the political interests of Orban.

“There was one simple goal: Viktor Orban had to show the Hungarians both in Hungary and outside of Hungary that he was their only defender,” Kuleba told Ukrainian public television on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies