By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KYIV/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – The arrival of 11 Ukrainian prisoners of war in Hungary freed by Russia in a church-mediated deal without Ukraine’s knowledge has led to tensions between Kyiv and Budapest.
Kyiv said it wasn’t notified of the plan nor the prisoners’ initial whereabouts but added that three of them have now returned home.
Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov complained that under international law, the transfer should have been mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Yusov added.
However, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó denied his government’s active involvement in transferring the detainees.
“I think it is good news that they are free and that there were consultations between church and religious organizations, where the Hungarian state was absolutely not involved,” Szijjártó said.
The Kremlin-backed Russian Orthodox Church announced earlier that it would transfer a group of captured Ukrainian soldiers of “Zakarpattia origin” to Hungary on June 8 without involving Ukraine’s authorities.
Ukraine’s westernmost Zakarpattia Oblast is home to roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, of which more than 400 serve in the Ukrainian military.
All of the released prisoners of war are believed to be ethnic Hungarians.
However, Ukraine and Hungary are at loggerheads over the Hungarian government’s perceived cozy relationship with Russia.
Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has refused to provide weapons to neighboring Ukraine and defended his decision to maintain energy deals with Russia.
Yet Hungary’s foreign minister accused Kyiv of making false accusations and said that instead of “lying attacks and getting personal,” both nations should celebrate the release of the prisoners and Hungary’s humanitarian work.
Yet the prisoners’ release resembles a detective novel. Several sources said the key to their rescue was the personal friendship between the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, with Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, a Christian Democrat.
Another key player in the prisoner release was the Hungarian Maltese Charity service.
In a statement, the Russian patriarchate explained that the prisoners of war being transferred to Hungary followed “the Church’s mediation within the framework of inter-church cooperation, at the request of the Hungarian side”.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it wasn’t informed about negotiations between Budapest and Moscow and requested a meeting with the temporary chargé d’affaires of Hungary in Ukraine.
The move also sparked tensions between Hungary and the European Union.
The EU’s executive European Commission said it demanded an explanation from Hungary’s government and Moscow.
“Russia must comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure that prisoners of war are treated humanely in all circumstances in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and not put their lives in danger,” European Commission foreign policy spokesperson Peter Stano said.
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