Get Informed, Stay Inspired

The population of Hungarian villages in Ukraine is declining due to political factors and ongoing warfare.
Europe Ukraine

The population of Hungarian villages in Ukraine is declining due to political factors and ongoing warfare.

Verbovets is located just a few kilometers away from the Ukrainian-Hungarian border and remains one of the few regions in Ukraine that has yet to be hit by Russian missiles.

Verbovets, situated far from the war, shares a similar fate with other villages in the obscure Zakarpattia region of Ukraine. Its streets are deserted, buildings shut down, and once-prosperous gardens neglected and left to grow wild.

Approximately 75,000 people of Hungarian descent currently reside in the area, which was previously a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Since assuming office in 2010, Hungarian President Viktor Orban has simplified the process for the large Ukrainian minority to attain Hungarian citizenship. In the wake of Russia’s complete annexation of Ukraine in 2022, a significant number of individuals with Hungarian heritage have utilized this option to leave Ukraine in order to avoid the ongoing conflict or potential military conscription for eligible men.

Most of the individuals who are left behind in Verbovets are women, children, and elderly people. Natalia Sipos travels to and from her job at a battery factory in the Hungarian town of Komarom on a daily basis.

Sipos informed VOA that several men have departed for Hungary, Austria, and Germany. As a result, there are numerous vacant homes and a significant number of individuals who do not plan on returning. Additionally, there are a considerable amount of people who have been drafted and will not be returning.

Sipos stated that life has been difficult since the start of the war, causing many families to relocate and decreasing employment opportunities. However, for ethnic Hungarians residing in Zakarpattia, Viktor Orban is seen as a positive figure who has provided job opportunities. There are notable differences between Hungary and Zakarpattia.

In 2017, the city of Kyiv implemented a legislation that mandated the use of the Ukrainian language in many areas of public life. This was intended to strengthen Ukraine’s identity after separatist forces, backed by Russia, gained control of two regions in the eastern part of the country and Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula. However, individuals belonging to ethnic Hungarian and other minority communities expressed concerns about experiencing discrimination.

Orban backed their movement, denouncing Kyiv for its “Hungarophobia” and using it as justification for halting talks with the European Union about Ukraine’s potential membership. During a summit in Brussels in December, other EU leaders convinced Orban to step out of the room while they voted to initiate membership discussions with Kyiv.

FILE - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, shown here at a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, on Nov. 16, 2022, accused Ukraine of “Hungarophobia” when, in 2017, Kyiv passed a law making the Ukrainian language compulsory in most aspects of public life.

In 2017, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused Ukraine of “Hungarophobia” after Kyiv implemented a law requiring the use of the Ukrainian language in various aspects of public life. This incident occurred during a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia on November 16, 2022, where Orban was in attendance.

The country of Ukraine has modified its language regulations to permit the use of minority languages, including Hungarian, in educational settings and other establishments. While Kyiv considers the issue resolved, Hungary expresses ongoing concerns regarding discrimination.

During a visit to Zakarpattia on January 29, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto stated that the issue of national minorities has not been resolved.

Certain community members claim to feel frustrated about being manipulated as mere players in a political strategy.

According to Constantinovits Milan, deputy director of professional affairs at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, ethnic tensions often arise from external influences in this diverse community. While the locals of this region coexist peacefully, it is often outsiders who stir up conflicts. These tensions are not inherent within the community, but rather artificially provoked.

Orban has been actively seeking support in Zakarpattia, a less affluent area of Ukraine, and has even gone as far as sending gifts during certain times of the year to the local ethnic Hungarian community.

Marika, an 81-year-old resident of Verbovets who preferred not to share her last name, described Viktor Orban as a kind and respectable man. She shared that she received a gift from him for both Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The majority of residents claim that poverty, rather than politics, is the primary issue.

Marika recalled the days of communist rule under the Soviet regime when the entire village had departed. There was no work to be found and staying meant facing starvation. Even though life was tough, the farm collective provided some coins to keep them afloat.