How Moscow is trying to force Russian citizenship on Ukrainians

How Moscow is trying to force Russian citizenship on Ukrainians

1 of 1 Russian passport Photo: Lehtikuva via Portal Russian passport Photo: Lehtikuva via Portal

A convoy of empty buses arrives in a city escorted by members of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency FSB. They refer to a decree of the Russian president about the deportation of all people without Russian citizenship from the occupied territories. “They radically demand that people give up their Ukrainian passports in favor of a Russian one, otherwise their property will be immediately confiscated and they will be resettled,” the Ukrainian military said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree according to which citizens of Ukraine living in the Russianoccupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Lugansk and Donetsk and wishing to keep their Ukrainian citizenship can only stay there until July 1, 2024 to be deported from occupied territories.

DW spoke to people living in the occupied areas of Kherson and Zaporiya. They confirmed that Ukrainians are being forced to obtain Russian passports. For security reasons, none of the people want to be identified.

“Russian soldiers searched everything in our house. When I showed my Ukrainian passport, they shouted that I should exchange it for a Russian one, otherwise my car would be taken away and I would be deported,” said an elderly man from Kherson.

A woman from the Zaporizhia region was moved to tears when she recounted how the Russian occupiers threatened to deport her young children to Russia if she did not immediately apply for a Russian passport.

Another woman was threatened by Russian soldiers who “put a sack over her head” because she refused to change her citizenship. “We held out until the end, we didn’t want to accept a Russian passport. But it’s unbearable and scary,” the woman, who lives in the coastal region of the Sea of ​​Azov, told DW.

Why the rush?

The deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, Yuriy Sobolevsky, says that the pressure on the people in the occupied territories has increased significantly recently. “Access to medical care and freedom of movement between cities will be restricted for those who refuse to accept Russian passports,” it said.

In his opinion, the Russians are now resorting to terror because not as many people want to become Russian citizens as Moscow had hoped.

According to the British Defense Ministry, Moscow apparently wants to accelerate the integration of the occupied territories in Russia in order to sell the invasion of Ukraine as a success for its own people, especially in the runup to the 2024 presidential election.

“But people are afraid of ending up in Russian databases,” a young man from Khrustalnyi in the Lugansk region told DW. He has been from a busy area since 2014. Many do not know what to do. “More and more employers are asking for a Russian passport,” the young man explained. But anyone who applies for a Russian “residence permit” is handing themselves over to the occupying power. Then there is also the danger of being drafted into the war.

Conflicting signals from Kyiv

Should people accept a Russian passport imposed on them? There are conflicting opinions among Ukrainian politicians.

Dmytro Lubinets, human rights commissioner in Ukraine’s parliament, said on TV that Ukrainians in the occupied territories should accept Russian passports if they fear for their lives. He stressed that Ukraine does not recognize such compulsory passports and that this does not mean that they lose their Ukrainian citizenship.

However, Minister for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories Mykhailo Podoliak says Ukrainians should not accept Russian passports. “Do not cooperate with the occupiers, do not accept Russian passports, flee if possible or wait for our army,” he said on television.

Life under occupation is not a crime

“I’m ashamed and afraid to accept a Russian passport, but I’m also afraid of deportation,” says a desperate woman from the occupied part of the Kherson region. “We cannot run away, as the Ukrainian authorities advise us, because we have an old and sick mother.”

According to Alyona Lunyova of the Zmnina Human Rights Center in Ukraine, people are confused by the conflicting advice from the Ukrainian authorities. She emphasizes that life under occupation is not a crime. “On the contrary, not everyone should leave the occupied territories, which should not become an empty country. Besides, we can’t get four or five million people there.” She says it’s not a crime to be forced to accept a Russian passport.

Meanwhile, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, says Lubinets and Vereshchuk’s advice is not contradictory. He tweeted this advice to Ukrainians in the occupied territories: “If it is possible not to accept a Russian passport, try not to accept it. But if you have to accept a Russian passport to avoid oppression and torture, then accept it.” Podolyak stressed that Ukraine will not prosecute citizens who “passively acquired Russian citizenship”.