Hungary prepared to accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian invasion

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, traditionally an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has finally condemned Moscow’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine. The Hungarian leader also announced that the country is ready to accept refugees from Ukraine immediately. The first Ukrainian citizens to seek refuge in Hungary crossed the border at Beregsurány and Záhony on 24 February. The average wait times at both crossings were over two hours this afternoon. Refugees were seen crossing the border into Hungary by foot, carrying just a suitcase. According to initial reports, Ukrainian border officials have not been checking to see whether or not those who have chosen to flee the country face the military draft under the terms of Ukraine’s martial law. Thus far, anyone who wants to leave has been allowed to cross the border into Hungary and a large number of those fleeing to Hungary seem to be young men. Hungarian officials have not turned people away either. It is believed that many of the first refugees are ethnic Hungarians from western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region. The Hungarian government expects the wave of refugees seeking asylum in Hungary to reach well into the thousands.

File photo: the Záhony border crossing between Hungary and Ukraine and a Hungarian border guard. Source: MTI.

Mr. Orbán issued a terse condemnation of the Russian invasion Thursday afternoon. He added that Hungary would offer humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, but would not contribute any troops. “My priority is the safety of Hungarians,” he said. Mr. Orbán then suggested that the more bullish approach of the Hungarian democratic opposition, if implemented, would endanger Hungary’s gas and energy supply. In contrast to Mr. Orbán’s hesitant stance, opposition politicians are calling for more sweeping measures and are using more explicit language. Socialist politician Attila Mesterházy would support NATO stationing more troops and equipment in Hungary, even while he sees no chance of the western military alliance sending soldiers to Ukraine itself. Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány is calling for the Russian investment in the Paks power plant to be suspended and to reconsider plans to produce the Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine in Hungary.  Mr. Gyurcsány also issued a stark condemnation of the Hungarian prime minister for his longstanding alliance with the Russian dictator. “Russia is the aggressor. It has attacked an independent, sovereign state. There is a war in our neighbourhood. We must act. The Hungarian government, which has long pursued a peculiar Russian policy, different from the common European policy, should not now hide behind the skirts of Brussels. Speak clearly and condemn the aggressor!” — Mr. Gyurcsány demanded of the Orbán government.

Jobbik politician Péter Jakab also did not mince his words: “Orban is Putin’s Trojan horse — and now the greatest national security threat to our country.”

Earlier, as we reported in HFP, Hungarian democratic opposition’s leader, Péter Márky-Zay, labelled Mr. Orbán a traitor of the West for siding with the Russian dictator and failing to speak up against military action that claimed the lives of more than 100 Ukrainians in day one of the invasion.

Here in North America, Béla Lipták — a participant in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, leader of the Hungarian Lobby and once supportive of the Orbán government, but no longer so — shared a series of steps he feels Ukraine should take to defend itself against the aggressor. First, he suggested the Russians will likely aim to capture or kill Ukraine’s political and military leaders. As such, he suggests they request UN protection. Then , Mr. Lipták added that Ukrainians who participate in the resistance should use Molotov cocktails, as these are “the most effective weapons.” He also noted that Ukraine should shut down any nuclear plants, as Russian cyber attacks could turn them into de facto nuclear bombs.

The European Union as well must take a principled stance. In its public statements, it appears to be doing just that. But what’s happening behind the scenes? András Bozóki, a professor of Political Science at Central European University, offered a dose of reality in a Facebook post today: “European utilities are set to buy more Russian natural gas (from Gazprom) via Ukraine pipelines. Yes, you read that right: Europe will be buying more natural gas. From Russia. Via Ukraine. Tomorrow.”

Civic courage in the western world remains in short supply.

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