No mass repatriation planned, Zaorálek tells Czechs in Ukraine

Фото: Szender László, Wikimedia Commons, License CC BY-SA 3.0

Prague is not planning a mass repatriation of ethnic Czechs from Ukraine, the Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said on a visit to the community on Wednesday. The minister said they were not in apparent danger and that it was already easy for them to move to the Czech Republic.

Volynhia | Photo: László Szender,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The Czech minister of foreign affairs, Lubomír Zaorálek, began a one-day visit to Ukraine on Wednesday in the city of Zhytomyr, in the north of the western half of the country.

Mr. Zaorálek was there to meet what are known as Volynhia Czechs, descendants of settlers who left the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the latter half of the 19th century. Many Volynhia Czechs returned to Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1940s and after the fall of communism but around 5,000 remain.

In March some 40 Volynhia Czech families in the Zhytomyr Oblast appealed to the Czech state for help in moving to the Czech Republic, saying they feared military conflict in Ukraine.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: CTK
The Czech Foreign Ministry rejected that call at the time but only last week President Miloš Zeman expressed support for the families, tasking the minister of the interior with exploring their repatriation.

If the president’s move raised the Volynhia Czechs’ hopes, they were dashed on Wednesday by Mr. Zaorálek, who said that the Czech Republic had no intention of instigating a wave of transfers. The country was not planning a mass exodus, he said.

Mr. Zaorálek said that while he did wish to see the situation on the ground his officials were unaware of any oppression of the Volynhia Czech families.

What’s more, said the country’s foreign policy chief, it is already relatively easy for Volynhia Czechs to move to the Czech Republic. Since April this year ethnic Czechs in Ukraine have been able to obtain permanent residence in the Czech Republic on proof of Czech roots; around 30 have done so to date.

While in Zhytomyr Mr. Zaorálek was also expected to unveil a memorial to around 80 Volynhia Czechs murdered in 1938 and to meet the regional governor.

Photo: CTK
After that the Czech foreign ministry was due to travel on to Kiev for talks with Ukrainian deputy foreign minister Natalia Halibarenko on what kind of aid the country would need as the winter approaches. He said Prague could provide dried milk, tents and blankets if needed.

Mr. Zaorálek also delivered over 100kg of bandages and other medical supplies, the final part of a Czech consignment of aid for hospitals in conflict-hit Eastern Ukraine.