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Budapest confirms transfer of 11 Ukrainian POWs by Russian Orthodox Church, Ukraine's MFA summons Hungarian envoy

9 June, 2023 Friday

The Russian Orthodox Church stated that it handed over a group of Ukrainian prisoners of war to Hungary. Budapest has confirmed this information, while Kyiv has not

The press service of the Russian Orthodox Church reported the alleged prisoners of war exchange.

They stated that on June 8, "within the framework of interchurch cooperatio reportedn," a "group of Ukrainian prisoners of war of Transcarpathian origin" was handed over to Hungary. They added that the exchange allegedly took place at the request of the Hungarian side and "with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill." The head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church and Kirill's advisor allegedly participated in the campaign.

As RBC Ukraine's sources noted earlier, the decision was not coordinated with Ukraine.

The source said that the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev) were to hand over at least 11 Ukrainian prisoners of war to Hungary. The charitable organization Maltese Aid Service of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order was supposed to act as one of the intermediaries.

"The transfer of prisoners of war was in no way agreed with Ukraine, and its expediency is explained by the "Transcarpathian origin" of the military. It is important to understand that all of these soldiers are Ukrainian citizens, and therefore their transfer to any third country is impossible without the consent and direct involvement of Ukraine," the source said.

The source explained that the purpose of this campaign is to restore the legitimacy of the Russian church, which is facing extensive international sanctions. Patriarch Kirill is using the authority of other states and the international reputation of the Maltese Aid Service. Russia is also trying to exploit the so-called "Hungarian card" and revitalize fictitious issues of "Transcarpathian separatism." Additionally, such a transfer may aim to delegitimize the prisoner of war exchange process itself, as it involves the uncontrolled transfer of Ukrainian military to other countries, even if it is allegedly done through a well-known organization.

Ukraine's response

A representative of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, Andriy Yusov, told RBC-Ukraine that there is no confirmation regarding the information about the prisoners of war.

"We are monitoring the information concerning Ukrainian prisoners of war, including the information that surfaced on the website of the so-called Russian Orthodox Church. As of today, this data has not been confirmed," Yusov said.

According to him, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry contacted its Hungarian counterparts but received no confirmation from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Deputy Prime Minister for Religious Affairs Zsolt Semjén, or the government.

International organizations, including the Red Cross, have not confirmed the information either.

"In addition, except for the so-called Russian Orthodox Church, which operates within the aggressor state's territory, no other officially recognized institutions of the Russian Federation have published or confirmed any information regarding the alleged transfer of our prisoners of war to another country," the representative summarized.

Hungary’s comment

Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén confirmed to ATV that 11 prisoners of war  have been transferred from Russia to Hungary. These are Transcarpathian Hungarians.

"This is my human and patriotic duty," Semjén said, noting that he had coordinated the transfer of the prisoners.

At the same time, he refused to provide any details, citing "the interests of the cause and the people." According to the politician, this is a gesture of the Russian Orthodox Church towards Hungary.

The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry's response

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned a temporary envoy, noting that Ukraine had not been informed by the Hungarian side about the transfer of prisoners of war.

“Today, the Hungarian envoy was invited to the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry for a substantive conversation. The Ukrainian side passed on a request to provide detailed information about our citizens and to provide immediate access to them for the Ukrainian consul to get acquainted with their health condition and provide them with consular assistance,” spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said. 

  • According to Ukraine’s Coordination Center for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, as of the end of May, 2,430 people have been returned home from Russian captivity as a result of the exchanges. Among them are 139 civilians. As part of the last large-scale exchange, which took place on May 25, Ukraine was able to return 106 of its military, particularly fighters from the Bakhmut direction.

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