Ukraine war: Russians fight for Ukrainian passport

Ukraine war: Russians fight for Ukrainian passport
Ukraine war: Russians fight for Ukrainian passport

Galina was born in Ukraine. She speaks Ukrainian, her husband serves in the Ukrainian army, and she lives in a village south of the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine.

But legally, Galina is Russian. As a child he moved to Russia and later became a Russian citizen. It means she – like thousands of other Russians in Ukraine – is in an unclear legal situation.

“When you show your documents, people think you’re something weird,” she tells me in the kitchen, where she spends her time sewing T-shirts for wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

The State Migration Service of Ukraine insists that all foreigners in Ukraine have equal rights with each other and that no nationality is discriminated against.

But some argue that is not the case. For example, lawyers working with the Russians in Ukraine told the BBC that their clients were dealing with frozen accounts.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion, the National Bank of Ukraine restricted financial services for all Russian and Belarusian citizens, although it says those with residence permits are not affected.

Galina does not agree. She says that because of her passport she cannot get a job and she fears that her bank account may be frozen.

She is seven months pregnant, but because she is not legally Ukrainian, she cannot access free state health services.

Galina also worries that she won’t be able to register the birth of her child: after marrying her Ukrainian husband Maksim in a church, she says officials refused to recognize the union because of her unsettled status.

“They said, ‘Come back when you have your passport,'” Galina explains. “I can’t understand who I am.” Under Ukrainian law, it is forbidden to have dual citizenship, although some do.

She began applying to become a Ukrainian citizen, but was unable to complete the process due to Russia’s large-scale invasion. Now that Galina’s temporary Ukrainian passport has expired, she says she feels “hostage to Russia.”

“Exchanging passports was difficult even before the war – now it’s impossible,” she says.

On Povitroflotski Boulevard in the center of Kyiv is a three-story white building with a lush garden. It is surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence and the shutters are well down.

They have been since February 23 last year, when staff at the Russian Embassy evacuated for “security reasons.” A day later, Moscow launched its full-scale invasion, and what remained of diplomatic relations between Kiev and Moscow disintegrated.

It means thousands of people in Ukraine, like Galina, live in uncertainty.

Currently, there are over 150,000 Russians with permanent residence permits in Ukraine. About 17,000 have temporary ones.

In order for them to successfully apply for a Ukrainian passport or citizenship, they must first physically renounce their Russian citizenship. Moscow complicated this process: to do so, he would have to submit his documents either to a Russian consulate abroad or in Russia.

There are no guarantees that Galina will not be arrested during this process or that she will not end up stuck outside of Ukraine.

As Galina’s children return from school, you can see the anguish in her eyes. An anxiety she tries to hide from her children.

But she refuses to hold Ukraine accountable or claim discrimination.

She puts all the blame on Russia for her situation, as well as her Russian family members who chose to support their country in the so-called “special military operation”.

“How can I support a robber, a rapist, and a murderer who comes into my house?” she says.

“I chose Ukraine”

When Anastasia Leonova, a Russian, moved from Moscow to Kiev in 2015, her friends warned her that she “wouldn’t be allowed to speak Russian” and that “there were only Nazis there.” It was a Russian propaganda narrative that angered her because she had uncles and cousins ​​living in Ukraine.

Anastasia’s relocation came after she criticized Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea online and support for separatist militants, leading to the loss of her job in Russia and death threats.

On February 24 last year, when Russian troops were marching towards Kiev, Anastasia says she had only one thought in her mind – to stay and fight.

“My blood is part Ukrainian. I was born as part of Ukraine. I chose Ukraine to be my homeland; I couldn’t betray this choice,” she says.

She volunteered as a medic with the Ukrainian forces as they defended the capital against their own country’s troops. The BBC asked her if she is treated differently because she is Russian. “No one asked for my passport when I was working,” she says with a smile. Certainly, my colleagues know”.

Only a few hundred Russians have been granted Ukrainian citizenship in the 18 months since the full-scale invasion, down from 1,700 the previous year.

Unlike Galina, Anastasia feels that she is closer to her dream. Serving in the military probably helped his cause.

Military service, marriage to a Ukrainian, and length of residence are all taken into account in citizenship applications. As the authorities point out, having the legal right to stay in Ukraine requires more than a simple change of identity.

This war has put thousands of Russians like Galina and Anastasia in a difficult position in Ukraine.

The head of the State Migration Service of Ukraine, Natalia Naumenko, told the BBC that no nationality is discriminated against when it comes to obtaining citizenship.

A new law is being drafted that would simplify citizenship and residency applications for those fighting for Ukraine.

But Naumenko points out that due to the large-scale invasion, the process will certainly not be easier for the Russians.

“We have already simplified it for those who fight for Ukraine. Why does he have to simplify Ukraine for all Russians in general?” she asks.

The article is in Romanian

Tags: Ukraine war Russians fight Ukrainian passport


NEXT EXCLUSIVE Marcel Ciolacu pays a visit to the USA, between December 2-7 / On the agenda