Update: By popular request, here is a map of ethnicities in Trans-Carpathia, which was called Ruthenia between the wars when it was part of Czechoslovakia, and Zakarpattia Oblast as part of Ukraine:
A substantial number of Hungarians live in southwestern Ukraine, in what is known as Subcarpathian or Trans-Carpathian Ukraine. The area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary for centuries before the Great War. Between the wars it was the easternmost region of the new state of Czechoslovakia, and was generally known as Ruthenia. After being occupied by the Soviets in the latter part of the Second World War, it was incorporated into the Ukrainian S.S.R., and thus became part of the newly independent Ukrainian state in 1991.
There are reports that members of the Hungarian minority in Trans-Carpathia are undergoing ethnic cleansing by being forcibly conscripted into the Ukrainian army and sent to fight on the most deadly sections of the front with Russia.
Our Hungarian correspondent László has excerpted from various Hungarian-language reports to produce the summary below.
Ethnic Cleansing of Hungarians in Ukraine?
Hungary has been inundated with harrowing reports about the forced recruitment of our fellow Hungarians (and others) living as a minority group in Ukraine. The recruitment is brutal to the point beating up people or kidnapping them at gunpoint from their homes. Some brave journalists of the Hungarian media outlet PestiSrácok.hu who travelled to Ukraine to investigate the situation, report:
Men are Being Rounded up Like Cattle in Trans-Carpathia
Twenty truckloads of bodies of dead soldiers were sent home by the Wagner group on 13 January, according to shocking videos posted on the Telegram channel of the Russian private army that is playing an increasingly important role in the war. The video shows the bodies being lifted one by one into coffins. It is still only official that the Ukrainians have lost Soledar — but more and more information is leaking out that at least half of the Munkács128 Mountaineering Brigade, the Ukrainian army’s elite unit, may have perished in the biggest battle of the war. The crew of PestiSrácok.hu has been in Trans-Carpathia, where the worst forced conscription operation since the outbreak of the war is taking place. Due to the huge losses [of manpower], which are greater than ever before, drastic methods are being used to replenish the numbers. According to local sources, they plan to conscript 10,000 people from Trans-Carpathia by spring. In our report, we show you some quite astonishing footage that could almost be described as kidnapping. We have learned that last week alone there were 90 people in the conscription quota and only in the Chap district. The conscriptors either meet the quota or they are taken away themselves … into something that is a meat grinder — judging by the Soledar footage. In addition to this, the persecution and dispossession of the remaining Hungarians has reached an unprecedentedly brutal level in Trans-Carpathia. [reports Pesti Srácok.hu]
RMX News cautiously asks in its headline whether it is a targeted ethnic cleansing.
After skimming the entire Hungarian media in order to be able to answer this crucial question, I can conclude that there may indeed be a form of ethnic cleansing going on there — even though it cannot be directly proven at the moment due to the fog of war, and I am not in Ukraine.
So I could, also cautiously, draw the above conclusion only on the basis of indirect proof: the Ukrainian county where the most Hungarians are reportedly being taken away to the fiercest battlefields from where many of them never return, is the area of Munkács city. And that’s exactly the place where the Hungarian community has been most viciously attacked recently, for instance by taking down the Hungarian flag from community buildings and severely curtailing their community rights by banning their native language in schools and other public institutions, or firing school headmasters.
Ukrainians in political power seem to be using the meat grinder of the war for literally doing away with the Hungarian minority. One local man of Hungarian nationality in Ukraine, interviewed by Pesti Srácok.hu, said:
The Ukrainian authorities are using this situation “to take revenge on the Hungarians”.
It is unclear what exactly he meant by “revenge”, because I do not know about any previous atrocities committed by Hungarians on Ukrainians — but the bottom line is that the Hungarians indeed seem to be persecuted now.
Even though Hungarians (in Hungary) opine that it really is an ethnic cleansing, the media and politicians are reluctant to call it that:
“According to our information, many people are puzzled as to why it is always the Trans-Carpathian [mostly Hungarian minority] troops who are sent into the fiercest battles,” writes the conservative MNO.hu
This “puzzlement” is most probably the sign of cautiousness in the face of war, and the intention of avoiding direct conflict in order to avoid escalation, and solving the problems with diplomatic efforts. The Hungarian foreign minister warned:
“Ukraine will need European political decisions that will not be taken without us, and the more rights are taken away from the Hungarian national community, the longer they drag on restoring the rights of the national community that once existed, the more difficult it will be for us at home in Hungary to make decisions that require us to make sacrifices,” he said.
So Hungarian politicians have not yet said the silent part out loud, but instead they talk about the community rights. A Hungarian politician [in Hungary], Katalin Szili, said some days ago that
“The Hungarians of Trans-Carpathia have been taken hostage in Ukraine.”
The Hungarian Prime Minister’s envoy Katalin Szili, who was visiting Trans-Carpathia, said this after she was not allowed to enter the castle in the former Hungarian city of Munkács in Ukraine to celebrate Hungarian Culture Day on 22 January with groups of local Hungarians.
Mrs. Szili described the increasingly hostile attitude towards the Hungarian minority, as summarized by MNO.hu:
“[Katalin Szili] said this was simply outrageous, especially towards an EU country. She added that by then they had already heard the news about what was happening in the district of Munkács — in Dercen and Fornos Hungarian flags and Hungarian language signs were removed, and the heads of the local cultural centre and the headmaster of the Hungarian school in Munkács, who had held the position for 17 years, were fired. We are talking about institutions that are maintained by the Hungarian state,” she said, writes MNO.hu
In Brussels, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó spoke out against anti-Hungarian attacks in Ukraine:
“These are all signs of a serious, concentrated anti-Hungarian attack”, he warned [referring to the sort of atrocities described above by Katalin Szili]. “All of this is unacceptable, and not only we Hungarians, but also the European Union must act against this. It is unacceptable for anyone to present this as a bilateral issue,” he added.
FM Szijjártó has addressed the hostile restrictions of the minority rights of the Ukrainian Hungarians, but has not, to my knowledge, explicitly talked about an ethnic cleansing that might be taking place under hellish wartime circumstances:
“Soledar and Bakhmut are hell on earth. The Ukrainian army must have suffered heavy losses here. From Soledar, the Wagner group has just released the remains of the deceased — which they claim were transported in 20 trucks. More footage has been posted on Russia’s Telegram channel of bodies left behind on the battlefield for long periods of time — soldiers who served their country or were taken to the front as victims of forced recruitment.
“Exactly how many casualties there might have been, how many people from the Ukrainian side lost their lives in the fighting, and how many of them were Hungarians from Trans-Carpathia, is not known. There are no official statistics, and if there were, they would be considered war secrets. Besides, it is also common practice to register fallen soldiers as missing in action, so that the families do not have to be paid for them,” an informant told us. We found the Telegram channel that is used specifically for searching for the missing, which already lists nearly 1,500 people. Two have been put on the list today. The most [names] have been put on it since mid-December,” Pesti Srácok reports.
For previous essays by László, see the László Archives.