Accessibility links

Breaking News

Polish Court Convicts Three Men For Torching Hungarian Center In Ukraine

The torched Hungarian Culture Society building in westernmost Ukrainian Zakarpattya region in February 2019.

A court in Krakow has found three Polish men with right-wing, pro-Russian leanings guilty of committing terrorist acts for their roles in firebombing a Hungarian cultural center in western Ukraine last year.

They were convicted on March 23 of torching a Hungarian-funded cultural center in Ukraine’s westernmost Zakarpattya region where more than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians reside.

The mastermind, 29-year-old Michal Prokopowicz, was sentenced to three years in prison.

His accomplice, Tomasz Rafal Szymkowiak, 23, was given two years.

A third suspect, 26-year-old Adrian Marglewski, who cooperated with investigators, was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to do community service.

Michal Prokopowiczsitting (wearing glasses) in a courtroom in Krakow, Poland, on January 14, 2019.
Michal Prokopowiczsitting (wearing glasses) in a courtroom in Krakow, Poland, on January 14, 2019.

The center was attacked on February 4, 2019 when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through its window. Later that month, another was thrown, causing a fire that destroyed most of the ground floor.

Poland’s domestic security agency, ABW, detained the three suspects the same month.

Ukrainian authorities had given Polish authorities evidence and closed-caption video footage of the men staying at a hostel in the regional capital of Uzhhorod, where they had registered in their real names. They were also shown purchasing gasoline at a local gas station.

"This attack was in line with the course of Russia's actions against Ukraine: the purpose was to weaken Ukraine internally and destabilize the situation in this country,” Mariusz Sadlo, a national prosecutor in Warsaw’s department of Organized Crime and Corruption, said in the courtroom.

The incident prompted Hungary to summon the Ukrainian ambassador to warn against rising "extremism" in the country.

It further strained relations between the neighboring countries over a Ukrainian education law that was enacted in 2017, elevating the status of the Ukrainian language and which Budapest said restricted the right of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine to be educated in their native language.

Prokopowicz is a member of the ultraright, pro-Russian Zmiana party, whose founder -- Mateusz Piskorski -- was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of spying for Russia and China.

Szymkowiak and Marglewski are members of the neofascist Falanga group whose members have been known to have participated in the war in Ukraine’s east on the side of Russian-backed separatists.

Prokopowicz and Szymkowiak had pleaded not guilty.

During the trial on January 14, Prokopowicz told the court that he received instructions and money for the arson attack from a German journalist who has worked as a consultant for a German member of parliament with the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Prokopowicz named Manuel Oschsenreiter, who has denied the allegation as "false."

Oschsenreiter is known to have ties to Zmiana and is editor of the right-wing German magazine Zuerst! (First!).

He has been a frequent commentator in Russian state media over the past six years, voicing support for Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and denouncing what he calls the Western media’s anti-Moscow bias.

With additional reporting by The Ukrainian Week magazine