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Ukraine and Hungary pledge to ease tensions over border region of Transcarpathia

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By Euronews with AFP
Transcarpathia, also known as the Zakarpattia Oblast, on Ukraine's Hungarian border.
Transcarpathia, also known as the Zakarpattia Oblast, on Ukraine's Hungarian border.   -   Copyright  Euronews
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Ukraine and Hungary have pledged to ease tensions over the border region of Transcarpathia.

The two countries have clashed over the rights of ethnic Hungarians in the region — which sits in western Ukraine — to use their native language.

A diaspora of around 150,000 Hungarians lives in Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia Oblast), on the border between the two neighbours. Although now in Ukraine, it was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which disintegrated after World War I.

Kyiv, which has been involved in a conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine for seven years, fears similar scenes in Transcarpathia.

Budapest, meanwhile, has accused Ukraine of hindering the region's cultural development, by advocating compulsory education in the Ukrainian language in secondary schools in 2018.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has now suggested resolving the education law dispute by setting up a working group.

Tensions also have erupted over the legality of the community members acquiring dual Hungarian citizenship.

"I came with great joy," Szijjarto said during a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv.

"We can put an end to the deterioration of our relations and turn them in the right direction", Szijjarto added.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Office via AP - FILE
Dmytro Kuleba and Peter Szijjarto previously met in Kyiv in June.Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Press Office via AP - FILE

After a period of tension, Hungary and Ukraine had begun to return to normal relations before the coronavirus pandemic.

But last October, Kyiv accused Budapest of "interfering in its internal affairs" after Szijjarto called for support for pro-Hungarian candidates in Ukraine's local elections.

"There is no reason to claim that Ukrainian Hungarians are inclined to separatism, just as there is no basis for believing that the Ukrainian state wants to harm the Hungarians of Transcarpathia," Kuleba said on Wednesday.

The foreign minister "strongly condemned any manifestation of disrespect towards the Hungarian community in Ukraine", while describing as "unacceptable any anti-Ukrainian rhetoric emanating from certain quarters in Hungary".

At the height of tensions, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government had threatened to act within the European Union and NATO to block ties and hinder their cooperation with Kyiv.

Before the meeting, Szijjarto had reported that Hungarian diplomatic missions in Ukraine had received threats of “bloodletting” violence from Ukrainian "patriots", without giving further details.

Ukrainian authorities said they were investigating the threats, which appeared to originate from outside the country.