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Ukraine illegally strips human rights activist of her Ukrainian citizenship

Halya Coynash

The ways of Ukrainian officials are truly unfathomable.  This time they have stripped a human rights activist who risked arrest while in Moscow for opposing Russian aggression against Ukraine of her Ukrainian citizenship.  They did not even bother to inform Olena Hlushko of this, leaving her to discover it the hard way when travelling to Moscow to support Denis Bakholdin, who is on trial effective for his support for Ukraine. 

Hlushko was involved in civic activism in Moscow, including protests after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, demanding an end to the aggression and the release of the Kremlin’s Ukrainian political prisoners.  She was detained on several occasions for such protests.

Since Hlushko was entitled to citizenship through ethnic origin, she went through the procedure in 2015 and registered her new citizenship at the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow. She left Russia soon afterwards, and has lived in Ukraine ever since, working for Donbas SOS, an NGO which helps displaced persons and other victims of the military conflict, as well as studying Law. 

Ukraine does not allow dual citizenship, and Hlushko therefore, in full accordance with the law, sent her passport to the Russian embassy, and informed the Ukrainian embassy of this by email.  Since Ukrainian legislation does not spell out any procedure for renouncing citizenship, it cannot be said that this was the wrong means of notification.

It turned out, however, that the Ukrainian embassy in Russia had, back on 27 April 2017, cancelled her citizenship without informing her.   This, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has since claimed, was because the Moscow embassy had not received notification from her that she had renounced her Russian citizenship.

Had they bothered to inform her, they would have received the notification which she had already sent by email once.   Instead, Hlushko learned that she had been made a stateless person on the night train to Moscow 15 months later, on 21 July 2018.  Her only passport, as citizen of Ukraine, was taken away from her by the Ukrainian Migration Service.

Glushko’s lawyer Oleksiy Skorbach points out the huge number of violations that the authorities have committed, of both Ukrainian and international legislation. Ukraine’s Constitution states unambiguously that “a citizen of Ukraine shall not be deprived of citizenship and of the right to change citizenship.” Ukraine’s Law on Citizenship expressly prohibits depriving a person of their citizenship if this will make them stateless.   

Even if the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow believed, wrongly, that Hlushko had not renounced her Russian citizenship, it was still not their place to take any decision.  They have such authority only where a person is living abroad, and Hlushko has been living in Ukraine since 2015.  It was for the Migration Service to decide any such issues, though, once again, after consulting Hlushko, who would have presented them with the evidence that she had renounced her Russian citizenship. 

Hlushko and Skorbach are seeking justice for her via the court, and hope to demonstrate that the embassy exceeded its authority by depriving her of her citizenship. 

In the meantime, however, Hlushko is unable to visit the ‘trial’ of Denis Bakholdin and give him badly needed support from Ukraine.

Like Hlushko, 37-year-old Bakholdin opposed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and criticized the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking part in many protests in Moscow.  He too moved to Ukraine in 2014, clearly hoping to make this permanent,  Unfortunately, his mother was ill and he tried to visit her in Russia in March 2017.  He was seized by Russian border guards on March 9, and has been held in Russian custody ever since, with his mother officially informed on March 17 that her son had been arrested in Russia, supposedly “while trying to illegally cross the Russian-Ukrainian border”.

Russia has now put him on trial (as it has Ukrainians Oleksandr Shumkov; Roman Ternovsky and Mykola Dadey) for involvement, while in Ukraine, in the organization Right Sector.  This is a Ukrainian national organization which Russia has demonized and has banned as ‘extremist’.   Bakholdin is charged, on the basis of his alleged involvement in Right Sector, with involvement in an ‘extremist society’ (under Article 282.2 § 2 of the Russian criminal code).  This could carry a sentence of up to six years – for involvement in an organization which is legal in Ukraine while in Ukraine. 

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12.12.2018 | Rascalndear

I hate to tell you, but the Canadian bureaucracy has done equally stupid things in other areas. This was clearly a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. . . and possibly the Russians deliberately not informing Ukrainian authorities that the persosn had given up her Russian passport. I don’t think it makes sense to make scandals out of a buraucratic mix-up. Hlushko/Glushko should be helped to have her citizenship restored. Period.

12.12.2018 | halya

I think you’ re right that this was not a deliberate attempt to deny somebody their citizenship, however the problem has not been rectified, hence the attempt to make it public, since that sometimes helps (HC)

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