Hungary–Ukraine relations

Hungary–Ukraine relations refers to the bilateral relations between Hungary and Ukraine. The modern bilateral relationship between Hungary and Ukraine formally began in the early 1990s, after the end of communism in Hungary in 1989 and Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.[1] Since then, the relationship has been marred by controversy over the rights of the Hungarian minority in the western Ukrainian region of Zakarpattia, where 150,000 ethnic Hungarians reside.[2] Both Hungary and Ukraine maintain embassies in Kyiv and Budapest, respectively, as well as a number of consulates in regions with large minority populations.

Hungary–Ukraine relations



History of relations

Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin

A stele at Askold's Grave commemorating the peaceful passage of the Hungarians
The Hungarians at Kiev; an 1885 oil painting by Pál Vágó depicting the Hungarian stay in Kyiv
Memorial of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in Verecke Pass, Zakarpattia

As told by the Primary Chronicle, the first interactions between the Hungarians and Kievan Rus' occurred towards the end of the 9th century during the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, at Askold's Grave in Kyiv. During the Hungarian migration from the Russian steppe to the Pannonian Basin, the Hungarians crossed the Dnieper river near Kyiv, the capital of Kievan Rus'.[3] There, they stayed at the site of Askold's grave, eventually passing peacefully through the city.[4] During the Middle Ages, the location of Askold's Grave became known in Ukrainian as Uhors'ke urochyshche (Ukrainian: Угорське урочище, lit.'Hungarian tract'), in memory of the Hungarian passage through the area, and retains that name today.

In 895, the Hungarians entered the Pannonian Basin through the Verecke Pass in the Carpathian Mountains (today in Ukraine), where they went on to establish the Kingdom of Hungary.[5] In 1996, the Hungarian government received permission from Ukraine to install a monument commemorating the 1100th anniversary of the passing of the Hungarians through the Verecke Pass and the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. Completed in 2008 by Hungarian sculptor Péter Matl, the structure sits on the border of Lviv and Zakarpattia oblasts near the village of Klymets.[6]

During the Hungarian invasions of Europe of the 10th century, the Hungarians and Kievan Rus' at various times found themselves allied with one another. In 943, Rus' forces provided support for a Hungarian offensive against the Byzantine Empire, which culminated in the purchasing of peace by Byzantine Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos.[7] During the final Hungarian invasion of Europe, in 970, Grand Prince of Kiev Sviatoslav I attacked the Byzantine Empire with supporting Hungarian auxilary troops, eventually facing defeat at the Battle of Arcadiopolis and effectively concluding the Hungarian invasions of Europe.[8]


A map of Carpatho-Ukraine

In 1939, in the aftermath of the breakup of the Second Czechoslovak Republic, the formerly autonomous Carpatho-Ukraine declared independence on March 15. The same day, the Kingdom of Hungary occupied and annexed the territory. Over the course of a few days, the 40,000 strong Hungarian army overpowered the limited forces of the newly proclaimed unrecognized state, which had only 2,000 troops.[9] By the 18th, Hungarian forces took full control of the territory of Carpatho-Ukraine.[10]

In the chaos that followed, an estimated 27,000 Ukrainian civilians were killed.[10] Approximately 75,000 Ukrainians from the area sought asylum in the Soviet Union, of whom 60,000 ultimately died in Soviet Gulags.[10]

Modern Relations

The modern bilateral relationship between Hungary and Ukraine began in the early 1990s, after the end of communism in Hungary in 1989 and Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.[1] As recently as 2016, relations between the two nations remained largely positive.[11]

2017 language law
The distribution of Hungarian speakers in Zakarpattia Oblast (red)

In September 2017, then-president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed the 2017 Ukrainian Education Law, which had previously been adopted by the Ukrainian parliament. The new law made Ukrainian the required language of study for all state schools in Ukraine past the fifth grade, reversing a 2012 law signed by ousted former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych that allowed regions with an ethnic minority making up more than ten percent of the population to use minority languages in education.[12] Although mainly intended to discourage the use of Russian in public education, the policy meant that schools in Hungarian majority areas of Zakarpattia, including many funded directly by the Hungarian government, would be forced to stop teaching in the Hungarian language.[13]

The change in rules served as the catalyst for the rapid deterioration of relations between Hungary and Ukraine. Immediately after the adoption of the law, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó announced that Hungary would block all further integration of Ukraine into NATO and the European Union and offered to "guarantee that all this will be painful for Ukraine in future."[14] This marked a significant shift in Hungarian foreign policy towards Ukraine, as it had previously supported stronger Ukrainian integration into NATO and the European Union and advocated for visa-free travel between Ukraine and the European Union, largely in order to make travel to Hungary easier for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.[15]

Following through on its promises, in October 2017, Hungary vetoed and effectively blocked the convening of a NATO-Ukraine commission meeting.[16] In response, Ukrainian officials announced concessions to some Hungarian demands, most notably extending the transition period until the implementation of the language law to 2023.[17]

Berehove Military Base

In March 2018, the Ukrainian government announced a plan to restore a military base in the ethnic Hungarian-majority border town of Berehove, situated ten kilometers from the Hungarian border.[18] The plan called for the permanent placement of 800 Ukrainian troops from the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade and the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade at the base.[19]

Ukrainian officials faced immediate backlash from the Hungarian government after the announcement. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó restated that Hungary would block any further Ukrainian integration into NATO or the European Union until Hungarian concerns were addressed, and called the placement of the base in a mostly ethnic Hungarian area "disgusting."[19]

The plans for the base were ultimately abandoned; however, in May 2020, officials again announced plans for the restoration of the same military base and the permanent stationing of Ukrainian troops there, this time from the 80th Air Assault Brigade.[20]

Hungarian passport distribution

In September 2018, an undercover video showing the granting of Hungarian citizenship and distribution of Hungarian passports to Ukrainian citizens by diplomats in Hungary's consulate in Berehove sparked new tensions between the two nations. The video, published by Ukrinform, captured recipients of new passports reciting an oath of alliegence to Hungary and singing the Hungarian national anthem.[21][22] Because voluntarily obtaining a foreign citizenship while failing to renounce Ukrainian citizenship is illegal according to Ukrainian nationality law, Hungarian diplomats instructed new citizens to hide their possession of Hungarian passports from Ukrainian authorities.[23]

In response to the incident, the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine declared the local Hungarian consul in Berehove persona non grata, expelling him from Ukrainian territory and accusing him of violating the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In turn, Hungary announced the expulsion of a Ukrainian consul in Budapest and reiterated threats to block Ukraine's further accession to NATO and the European Union.[24]

2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election

In the run-up to the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election, Hungarian officials attempted on numerous occasions to influence the results in favor of candidates backed by the Party of Hungarians of Ukraine, a political party active in Zakarpattia Oblast. Specifically, the Hungarian government worked to sway voters in favor of party leader Vasyl Brenzovych and two other candidates contesting seats in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament. The party received direct payments in the form of Hungarian grant money, and the Hungarian Development Bank spent 800,000 Hungarian forints (about 2,400 Euros at the time) paying for billboards supporting the organization in violation of Ukrainian law.

Throughout July 2019, a number of top Hungarian figures visited Zakarpattia in order to hold rallies and lobby voters for the party's candidates, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó. Around the same time, party leader and parliamentary candidate Vasyl Brenzovych visited Budapest to attend a meeting with Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán. Despite the extensive efforts, none of the Party of Hungarians of Ukraine's candidates were ultimately elected.[25]

In response to the meddling, the Ukrainian government accused Hungary of violating the Charter of the United Nations and Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.[25]

Diplomatic missions

Due to their significant minority populations within each other's borders, Hungary and Ukraine each maintain an extensive network of diplomatic missions across both nations. Hungary has an embassy in Kyiv, a consulate-general in Uzhhorod, and a consulate in Berehove,[26] while Ukraine maintains an embassy in Budapest[26] and a consulate-general in Nyíregyháza.[27]


The Tisza Bridge, which carries the E573 across the Hungary–Ukraine border

Hungary and Ukraine share a 136.7 km (84.9 mi) border, roughly following the Tisza river across the Zakarpattia Lowland. The border has a single point of entry by passenger rail, between Chop and Záhony, and one point of entry that only serves freight rail, between Solovka and Eperjeske.[28]

A number of Ukrainian highways and Hungarian roads meet at the border, including Ukraine's M06, which turns into Hungary's Main Road 4 in Solomonovo, and the M26, which continues as Route 491 in Hungary. Both route systems are part of the international E-road network, as the E573 and E58, respectively. Only five official points of entry for vehicles exist along the border.[28]

Because Hungary is a member of the European Union while Ukraine is not, the boundary is an external border of the European Union. Since the approval of visa-free travel between Ukraine and the European Union in 2017, the border can be crossed in either direction without a travel visa.[29]

Twin towns and sister cities

A welcome sign at Berehove's city limits in Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Old Hungarian script

Because of the Hungarian minority there, the vast majority of Hungary and Ukraine's city links involve towns and villages in Zakarpattia Oblast; specifically, many twinned Ukrainian towns are on or near the border with Hungary and have Hungarian-majority populations. Conversely, multiple agreements between the two nation's municipalities involve towns and villages in Hungary's Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County, which is home to a significant part of the Ukrainian minority in Hungary.

See also


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