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.

Russia bribes soldiers with land plundered from real owners in occupied Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Russia is forcing Ukrainians to take Russian citizenship and personally confirm ownership or face losing their homes on occupied territory
Russian Wagner unit mercenary in newly destroyed and seized Soledar Photo TASS
Russian Wagner unit mercenary in newly destroyed and seized Soledar Photo TASS

Russia has begun ‘allocating’ plundered Ukrainian plots of land on occupied territory to the Russian military, engaged in its war of aggression against Ukraine.  It is also continuing to hunt out and seize the homes of Ukrainians who were forced to flee the invaders or who have remained on occupied territory but are unwilling to take Russian citizenship.  Ukrainian human rights groups have, however, issued a stark warning to any Ukrainians planning to return to occupied territory, including those hoping to save their property by taking Russian citizenship and ‘re-registering’ the property under Russian legislation.  They risk their freedom or even their lives, and should also remember that any such forced ‘re-registration’ is legally null and void, with Russia as occupying state having no right to appropriate and dispose of any Ukrainian territory.

The East Human Rights Group reported on 15 May that Russian military are being allocated land plots on occupied territory, with the land in question illegally placed on Russia’s register of ‘confiscated land’.  Around two thousand such land plots have been illegally allocated since the beginning of 2023.  This is, essentially, another form of bribery, with the Russians trying in this way to entice men into joining its invading army.  The human rights monitors report that such land ‘allocations’ are also taking part in occupied parts of Donetsk; Luhansk; Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.  There, however, the land is normally ‘given’ to middle- or high-ranking officers.  If all of this were not lawless enough, the invaders are also promising to allocate land to those who help them seize more Ukrainian territory.

Russia seized Ukraine’s state property as soon as it invaded and annexed Crimea, with some of this, like the world-renowned Massandra winery,‘sold’ for a pittance to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s cronies.  It has also been importing FSB and other enforcement bodies, as well as military personnel, to occupied Crimea, with the deal clearly involving land effectively stolen from Ukraine.  Plunder became even more brazen after Putin issued a ‘decree’ in March 2020 essentially calling the Ukrainian owners of land in Crimea ‘foreigners’ and prohibiting them from owning land in most parts of the occupied peninsula.  By September 2024, the occupation regime had ‘auctioned’ the first of such commercial and private land with Russian-installed ‘leader’ Sergei Aksyonov even claiming that the money made would be used to fund Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

Although Russia began forcing Crimeans to accept Russian citizenship from the outset, it was 2020 before Putin set in force the plunder of private property.  The Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ formalized such plunder in May 2021, although it had long been common knowledge that apartments and homes known to be unoccupied might well be seized by the occupiers.

Both the pace and the aggressive methods used to force Ukrainians on occupied territory to accept Russian citizenship and to appropriate ‘Ukrainian property’ have intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  There are constant reports of house-to-house visitations, with the occupiers, accompanied by men with machine guns, hunting out unoccupied territory and demanding proof of ownership.

Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol, reported on 7 May that the Russian occupiers of his city have published another list of unoccupied apartments which they are planning to ‘nationalize’, with this otherwise known as stealing.  The occupiers are demanding that the owners appear in person to prove their ownership rights and  show a Russian passport. 

There are similar reports from all parts of Donetsk; Luhansk; Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts currently under Russian occupation.  At the end of March 2024, the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ announced essentially identical ‘legislation’ attempting to legitimize the ‘nationalization’ of property whose owners had left occupied territory.  There, and in occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, it was announced that the owners of all property on that territory would have to register it in Russia’s property register.  Without this, the property would be

These moves prompted the Crimean Human Rights Group and several other NGOs to issue a statement on 9 May 2024 advising Ukrainians to refrain from trying to get to occupied territory from the Russian Federation and to not take Russian citizenship. “Such trips pose a high risk to life and health, while any documents issued by the occupation regime lack any legal force in Ukraine and are invalid.”

The danger for any Ukrainian citizen of trying to travel through Russia and occupied Ukrainian territory cannot be overstated.  Leniye Umerova, a young Crimean Tatar woman, was just 25 when, in early December 2022, she tried to reach her family in occupied Crimea, to be with her father who had been diagnosed with cancer.  She was seized on one absurd pretext, and then held prisoner on several others for around five months before the FSB formally arrested her on surreal ‘spying’ charges.  Oleksandr Marchenko was savagely tortured and then put on ‘trial’ and sentenced to ten years on similar charges after trying to get to occupied Donetsk to retrieve a car which the militants had appropriated.  These are just two of many such tragic cases.

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