Hungary is one of the largest recipients of displaced individuals from Ukraine, by 6 March over 180,000 refugees arrived in Hungary from Ukraine; four days later this number reached 200,000. As part of the Civil Protection Mechanism, Hungary has granted arriving Ukrainians the permit to stay and work in the country for a year. In addition, refugees can now access social welfare and medical assistance, while Ukrainian children have the right to attend education and day care in Hungary.
Civil society was also quick to respond to the crisis, with NGOs gathering donations and platforms connecting refugees with hotels and private individuals to find shelter. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told that Hungary is now undertaking the largest humanitarian aid operation in its history, with the government’s Bridge for Transcarpathia aid campaign collecting 638 million forints (EUR 1.7m) in donations. As of 10 March, 800 tonnes of food and 200 tonnes of hygiene products were delivered to the Transcarpathia region in Western Ukraine.
Hungary is now undertaking the largest humanitarian aid operation in its history
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was swift to condemn Russia’s assault on Ukraine, just as Péter Szijjártó, who summoned the Russian ambassador to Budapest early on in the conflict, making clear Hungary’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Since the prime minister called Hungary’s policy towards the conflict ‘strategic calmness’ meaning that refugees should be welcomed and assisted, peace negotiations should be supported, but Hungary should strictly stay out of the war – be the involvement in the form of direct engagement in the conflict, or providing military equipment to Ukraine. As the prime minister emphasized is various times – the most important is to ensure the security of Hungarians. As an effort to stop the war, Hungary offered to host talks between Ukraine and Russia to peace negotiations.
Some highlighted that Hungary is a NATO member, so it is unlikely that Russia would launch a direct attack against supply deliveries on Hungarian territories
According to the Hungarian PM’s standpoint, sending Hungarian troops or weaponry to Ukraine is out of question. Hungary also opposes to transit lethal weapons to Ukraine through Hungary, arguing that it could be a security threat for the country as deliveries might be targeted militarily. Humanitarian aid, on the other hand, is being sent to Ukraine through Hungary. In opposition to these fears, some highlighted that Hungary is a NATO member, so it is unlikely that Russia would launch a direct attack against supply deliveries on Hungarian territories. However, Hungary must also take into account the fate of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine when making a stance in this war. As lethal military deliveries would transit through the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine, which is home to a large Hungarian ethnic minority, lethal weapon supplies through Hungary could jeopardise Hungarians’ (living on either side of the border) security, which the government aims to avoid.
Not everyone was satisfied with Hungary’s response. Ljubov Nepop, Ukraine’s ambassador to Hungary asked Hungary to do more to help her country, arguing that Ukraine is now defending Hungary’s security too. The ambassador called out the government’s ‘strategic calmness’ policy arguing that Hungary should stand firmer on Ukraine’s side because the only way for Hungary to defend itself and stay out of the war is to support Ukraine. On the other hand, the ambassador welcomed Hungary’s humanitarian aid as well as the government’s decision to support Ukraine’s membership in the EU. Ildikó Lendvai, the former president of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), blamed Viktor Orbán for building close relations with Russia over the last couple of years, and for turning back to the West. Péter Márki-Zay, the opposition candidate for the 2022 elections, suggested to send Hungarian troops to Ukraine to fight – an idea the government strictly opposes.
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