What was Hungary’s role in freeing Ukrainian POWs from Russia? The European Commission wants to know

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the European Political Community Summit at the Mimi Castle in Bulboaca, Moldova, Thursday, June 1, 2023. Leaders are meeting in Moldova Thursday for a summit aiming to show a united front in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and underscore support for the Eastern European country's ambitions to draw closer to the West and keep Moscow at bay. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) (Vadim Ghirda, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BRUSSELS – Hungary's government will be asked to provide explanations and details about its role in the transfer to the country of 11 Ukrainian prisoners of war freed by Russia, the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday.

The liberation of the POWs has created further tensions between Ukraine and Hungary's government, which is led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and is one of the most friendly toward Moscow of the EU's 27 nations. Budapest has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the bloc's sanctions against Russia.

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Ukraine has blamed Hungary for barring access to the prisoners, and the country's foreign ministry said it wasn't informed about the negotiations leading to their liberation.

“It is very important that the relevant Hungarian authorities involved in this case, and active in this case, explain to their Ukrainian counterparts what happened, how it happened, what was the role of Hungary, who was involved, who was not involved, how this was managed,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said earlier this week that its attempts to establish direct contact with the prisoners have failed, and that they were kept in isolation.

“This, as well as the information received from the relatives of some of them, shows that the assurances of the Hungarian authorities about the allegedly free status of Ukrainian defenders in Hungary are not true,” it said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has said the prisoners can move freely and communicate with whomever they want. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, three of them have been brought back to Ukraine on Tuesday,

Zoltán Kovács, Hungary’s state secretary for international communication, said that the Hungarian government had nothing to do with the liberation of the prisoners, who are ethnic Hungarians from the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia.

“The cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta had led to the release of 11 prisoners of war, without the involvement of the Hungarian government,” he said.

Budapest has vocally opposed sanctions against Moscow, arguing they have done more damage to EU countries than to Russia, and has refused to provide Ukraine with weapons or allow their transfer across its border with Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Szijjártó called on Ukraine’s government to respect the rights of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transcarpathia, where he said ethnic Hungarians had recently been victims of “concentrated attacks” by local authorities.


Justin Spike contributed to this story from Budapest, Hungary.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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