Ukrainian refugees start arriving in an unprepared Hungary

Ukrainian refugees start arriving in an unprepared Hungary
Ethnic Hungarians from the Transcarpathian region of Western Ukraine have crossed the border, many of them by foot or by bicycle.
By bne IntelliNews February 26, 2022

Hungary is ill-prepared to welcome Ukrainian refugees, mostly ethnic Hungarians, who have been arrriving at its borders, local media reported on February 25. So far, several thousand people, the majority of them ethnic Hungarians from the Transcarpathian region of Western Ukraine, have crossed the border, many of them by foot or by bicycle. Their number is far less than in Poland.

According to media reports, the state is not prepared for their arrival. There are no shelters, no information booths, only drivers offering trips to Budapest for €100-150, ten times the train ticket price.

Border towns are opening up their schools as temporary shelters, but there is no one at the borders to inform them. A number of refugees entering Hungary are staying with relatives, but many have nowhere to go.

Hungarian officials appear unprepared for the start of the Russian invasion. Hungary’s defence ministry just a day before the operation started was talking about the improbability of a Russian invasion. Pro-government pundits and columnist were poking fun of US officials speculating on the date of the  invasion.

Hungary's five border crossings with Ukraine are operating at full capacity, lines waiting on the Ukrainian side of the border now extend 3-5 km, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said in a video message on February 25.

Hungary has acted on requests by a number of countries to open a humanitarian corridor for their citizens leaving Ukraine, among them India, Iran, Ecuador, Israel, Zimbabwe, the Maldives, Mongolia and Jordan.

He added that legal measures have been taken allowing those people to enter Hungary without a visa and travel to the nearest airport to fly home. Szijjarto noted that Debrecen, Hungary's second-biggest city, has the closest international airport to the border with Ukraine. He said border crossing procedures for humanitarian deliveries to Ukraine crossing Hungary will be expedited, at the request of Ukraine.

On Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban consulted with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels at a meeting of heads of state and government of Nato members.

Together with Nato, Hungary is protecting Europe's borders. Hungary's security comes first, according to a short statement after the meeting.

Hungary’s government's tepid reaction to the attack on Ukraine reinforced views that Orban is walking a tight rope when it comes to criticising Vladimir Putin. 

Hungary is seen as Russia’s strongest ally in the EU. The government argues it wants to build strong ties to secure Hungary’s energy needs. The country gets 90% of its gas from Russia.