"Budapest set a condition": Ukrainian prisoners handed over by Russia to Hungary tell the details of the exchange

How Russia handed over Ukrainian prisoners to Hungary. Source: DW.

The Ukrainian prisoners of war handed over to Hungary by Russia in June 2023 were released by the occupiers under certain conditions. The prisoners were allegedly found to have Hungarian roots, which the men definitely do not have.

The released men are not only citizens of Ukraine but also consider themselves Ukrainians and speak Ukrainian, DW writes. They have only now told the details of the exchange and named the condition of their release. It is a ban on returning to Ukraine.

Two men (conditionally Ivan and Andriy – they asked not to disclose details that could identify them) from Zakarpattia joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the spring of 2022. They fought in the Luhansk region and were captured in June 2022. The occupiers called Andriy's mother and told her that her son was in captivity, but Ivan's family had not received any news.

The men tell little and sparingly about their captivity. They were "periodically beaten" (interestingly, according to the men, only Ukrainian collaborators worked there), fed barley and "prison balanda," but "just to keep a person alive." Ivan lost ten kilograms in almost a year in captivity, and Andriy lost almost 30 kilograms.

Having gathered a group of 11 prisoners of war who were originally from Zakarpattia, the Russians transported them to Moscow. There, they were interrogated by FSB representatives, who informed them that the prisoners would be released but taken to Hungary instead of Ukraine.

According to Ivan and Andriy, only one of the 11 Transcarpathians is of Hungarian descent: "But I was told: either you say you are Hungarian in the right way, or you don't know if you will be taken back." In June, the prisoners of war were transferred to Istanbul, and from there to Budapest. There they were met by a Hungarian representative who did not identify himself.

The Ukrainians were not guarded or restricted in their movements but were asked not to walk around the city until they received refugee status. In addition, the men were allowed to call their families and invite them to visit. However, the Hungarian representatives put forward a condition for the former prisoners not to return to Ukraine until the end of the war.

As reported by OBOZ.UA, the first news about the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners of war was published by the Russian Orthodox Church: the transfer of prisoners allegedly took place "with the mediation of the Russian Orthodox Church within the framework of inter-church cooperation at the request of the Hungarian side." After that, Russian priests reported that they were preparing to release another group of prisoners, but this never happened.

The Ukrainian government was not informed about the negotiations between the Hungarian and Russian sides on the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, this was done in the political interests of pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Despite the Hungarian condition, five of the 11 Ukrainian soldiers decided to return home. Among them was the only soldier of Hungarian origin. The Ukrainian Embassy in Budapest provided them with documents and a diplomatic car to escort them across the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. 

Upon returning to Ukraine, the men were sent to rehabilitation centers. But only two of them were reinstated in service after treatment and rest. The third is still being treated in a psychiatric hospital. The fourth died of pneumonia. However, the fifth prisoner returned to the front.

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