war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian citizenship or your life. How Moscow prepares for fake elections in occupied parts of Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Russia has yet again hit new depths, and is forcing Ukrainians to take Russian citizenship or risk losing vital medication

Russian ’mobilie group’ foisting Russian citizenship Screenshot from a Russian propaganda video

Russian ’mobilie group’ foisting Russian citizenship Screenshot from a Russian propaganda video

After staging fake referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine and claiming full support for ‘joining Russia’, Moscow is now seeking to stage fake ‘elections’ in what it alone considers ‘new Russian territory’.   To do so, however, it needs Ukrainians to accept Russian citizenship, and, like the ‘votes to join Russia’, that requires coercion.

According to the Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, the Russians are trying to force residents of Melitopol and all other occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia oblast to receive Russian citizenship by 1 September, in time for Russia’s parliamentary ‘elections’.  These have been illegal since 2014 since they were held in occupied Crimea, and now Russia wants to add to their illegitimacy by trying to use them to ‘legitimize’ seizure of other Ukrainian territory.  Russia is now threatening that those who don’t obtain Russian citizenship by 1 September “will be made foreigners in their native land”.  

The latest method for foisting citizenship which the Centre for Journalist Investigations [CJI] has uncovered is especially cynical.  The occupation regime is preventing those who do not take Russian citizenship from receiving free medication. Since the prices of such medicines are as much as three times higher than in government-controlled Ukraine, many Ukrainians will be confronted with a bitter choice: Russian citizenship or their life.  At least in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia oblast, the occupation regime has announced that, from 1 June, Ukrainians will need to provide a copy of a Russian passport to receive medicine free of charge.  News of such measures are circulated in local social media networks.  The occupation administration of the Plodorodne Hromada [Community] in the Melitopol raion, for example, circulated information saying that all of those with chronic illnesses needed to provide their family doctor with a copy of a Russian passport and of their Russian social insurance number [SNILS].  Those who do not have these will, from 1 June 2023, be unable to receive potentially life-saving medication.

The Telegram channel ‘Berdiansk Today’ reported early in May that the hospital in Berdiansk was to begin issuing free medication only to those with Russian citizenship.  Sources from inside Berdiansk have told the channel that this is yet another form of pressure on local residents to force them into agreeing to Russian citizenship.  Berdiansk Today notes that the occupation authorities have also prohibited the import of medicine from government-controlled Ukrainian territory, which it calls “a flagrant violation of international law.”

Such forms of blackmail hit new depths but are by no means the only form of coercion used by the Russian invaders. The aim, moreover, is not only to foist Russian passports on Ukrainians. Russia has also come up with ‘formal declarations’ that a person is, supposedly, renouncing their Ukrainian citizenship. 

Such ‘renunciation’ is legally meaningless, and no Russian citizenship obtained under duress will be deemed collaboration by the Ukrainian authorities.

Russia’s weaponization of its citizenship was first seen back in 2008, when it issued passports to people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as an attempt to justify its aggression against Georgia and land-grab.  It used similar tactics in order to try to claim Donbas as ‘Russian’ with this beginning back in April 2019 when Russian president Vladimir Putin issued decrees simplifying the process for receiving Russian citizenship. 

It is now using various methods to try to ‘russify’ other territory, invaded and occupied since 24 February 2022.  According to human rights defender Pavlo Lisniansky, Ukrainians are prevented from crossing internal checkpoints, or the border between occupied parts of Ukraine and Russia without Russian citizenship and a signed ‘renunciation of Ukrainian citizenship.’

He reported then, in late April 2023, that the Russians were using groups of FSB [security service] officers going around people’s homes try to force them into signing so-called ‘renunciations’. Cases had been recorded, he said, where residents had been detained for refusing to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship.

Russia’s genocidal plans with respect to Ukraine involve both forcing Ukrainians to become Russian citizens and to indoctrinate children into believing that they are ‘Russian’.  For this, they need the program of propaganda and militarization provided by Russian schools.  It was for this reason that, shortly after its full-scale invasion, Russia began trying to force parents to send their children to occupation ‘schools’ and Ukrainian teachers to collaborate with them.  One of the methods used has been to threaten to take children from their parents if the latter do not send them to such propaganda ‘schools’.  More recently, there have been reports that parents  are further being forced to take Russian citizenship or risk losing their children. 

Russia has, in general, become ever more brazen in its attempts to ‘russify’ occupied parts of Ukraine.  On 27 April 2023, Putin signed a decree envisaging deportation of Ukrainians from occupied parts of Donetsk; Luhansk; Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts for refusing to take Russian citizenship.  This would, purportedly, only be if they were deemed to ‘pose a threat to Russia’s national security’, but since supporting Ukraine, attending a rally, or similar would all be considered to do this, this scarcely restricts the scope of such a measure (details here)

Russia’s State Duma has also passed legislation’ which envisages “the forced and controlled deportation of citizens” from Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory to the Russian Federation. 

As comments from the United Kingdom’s Defence Ministry demonstrate, Ukraine’s western partners are under no illusions about the objectives behind such coercion, and Russia’s flagrant violation of international law.  That awareness must, however, be translated into robust measures to help liberate all parts of Ukraine, as Russia is hardly concealing what awaits any Ukrainians and Ukrainian territory that fall under its occupation.

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