Prohibited from discriminating against Crimeans


A Ukrainian court has finally seen the light, as well as the law, and has revoked a discriminatory ruling by Ukraine’s National Bank which made the life of Crimeans following Russia’s invasion and occupation even harder.

On September 1 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal revoked Item 1 of the National Bank’s Decision No. 699 which had categorized Crimeans as “non-residents”.  The ruling was probably inevitable after the Supreme Court’s rather unexpected, though extremely welcome, judgement last month which found the Bank’s action to be in breach of current legislation.   

The battle dates back to a controversial bill which came into force on Sept 27, 2014.  There are multiple issues with the so-called Law on making Crimea a free economic zone , which as well as declaring Crimeans to be ‘non-residents’, envisages the establishment of customs control at the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and the Crimea.  The concept of import/export between mainland Ukraine and the Crimea is introduced, and contracts between mainland Ukraine companies and those in the Crimea are treated as ‘foreign’.

Human rights groups had opposed the bill, warning that, if passed, it would mean that Ukraine would be effectively recognizing the Crimea as Russian territory and allowing Ukrainian enterprises to continue business as usual with the Crimea. 

The bill was passed with considerable irregularities, probably indicating that fierce lobbying was underway behind the scenes by MPs or others with strong business interests in the Crimea (See: Legislative stab in the back for Crimeans). 

Then on Nov 3, the National Bank adopted its Decision No. 699 which banned any loan or deposit operations in Russian roubles and obliges Ukrainian banks to close the accounts of legal entities in the Crimea opened before the Crimea was declared a ‘free economic zone’.

The ‘free economic zone’ law states that the right to social guarantees and guaranteed contributions applies only to Ukrainian citizens who are not at the same time citizens of the occupying country.

This effectively meant that Crimeans were being treated as non-residents of their own country.  The National Bank finally responded to the criticism and claimed to have resolved the problem through a new Decision No. 810 from Dec 18, 2014, which allowed Crimeans registered as internally displaced persons to retain resident status.  

The Decision nonetheless retained the distinction with Crimeans remaining in Crimea or others not registered as displaced persons still remaining so-called ‘non-residents’.  Another problem is that even those who have received a document confirming that they are internally displaced people and cannot be viewed as non-residents, still have to renew this every 6 months, and that involves enduring huge queues.

The Supreme Court found that the National Bank’s decision had no relation to the Law on a free economic zone, and that it had therefore acted unlawfully.

Human rights lawyer Serhiy Zayets who has been fighting this discriminatory decision explains that the victory is not complete.  The court did not revoke the provisions regarding legal entities, deeming these to not be discriminatory. Banks are still able to close the accounts of legal entities registered in Crimea. 

The ruling unfortunately also leaves the law on Crimea as a free economic zone intact.  

Halya Coynash
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